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Library branch reopening weeks away

| May 29, 2020 8:37 AM

Libby librarians plan to serve patrons in an alternative location as officials assess the damage wreaked on the organization’s building by a burst pipe earlier this month.

Lincoln County Administrator Pat McFadden said the immediately adjacent county courthouse in Libby may serve as a temporary annex. Officials hoped to reopen the library within a week of the catastrophe, but the extent of the water damage has pushed those plans back by several weeks, McFadden said.

“It’s still drying out,” he said. “The mitigation people will be out Friday and then we’ve got to get contractors in to rebuild and then we’ve got to get replacement items, like bookshelves and computers. We’re looking at three weeks, probably, minimum.”

The burst pipe, discovered May 18, left about four inches of water in the library’s lower level. The initial focus was on removing irreplaceable archives and books from the water’s way. McFadden said about 20 county employees, including members of the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners, rushed to save materials from the waterlogged building.

A week later, McFadden said officials were able to save a portion of the library building’s new carpeting, which was added in April. Older carpeting, though, is “pretty much gone,” he said.

Also lost in the flood were the library’s computers, though the machines were due for an upgrade, McFadden said. Workers are evaluating the branch’s wooden bookcases to see if they are salvageable, he said. As for the building, McFadden said water soaked into the sheetrock, but the totality of the damage remains under investigation. He expected to have a better sense of the coming repair work in the coming days.

Insurance, after a $2,500 deductable, will cover the cost of the damages, McFadden said.

Although several books were irreparably damaged, the extent of the loss remains unknown, officials said. Older or irreplaceable materials, like audio interviews, were relocated to the county courthouse for safekeeping. McFadden said librarians hoped to spare the more important materials from humidity damage.

Library Director Alyssa Ramirez could not be reached for comment, but organization officials said in a statement released on Facebook that damaged prints and maps were given to a local business for possible restoration.

“Now, we wait for the library to dry out before we can assess what work needs to be done,” reads the post, which went up over the weekend. “So we will be closed next week. But we hope to have alternative methods of providing service soon.”

That may be inside a conference room in the county courthouse, McFadden said. The tentative plan calls for bringing over a selection of the branch’s newer books for patrons to peruse.

The burst pipe came on the eve of the library’s reopening. Branches in Libby, Troy and Eureka closed to the public in March as concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic mounted. As those fears ebbed, librarians launched a curbside pickup service for patrons eager for new materials.

All of the county library system’s branches were set to reopen last week in a limited capacity. Hoping to prevent a possible future outbreak of coronavirus, library staff planned to limit the number of patrons inside their buildings for the next several weeks.

Making an appointment is recommended and patrons are asked to wear masks. Gloves and a thorough hand sanitizing are required for entry.

The Troy and Eureka branches have reopened as scheduled.

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Materials discarded after the flood in the Libby Branch of the Lincoln County Library. (Paul Sievers/The Western News)