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Message from the State Librarian of Iowa

This message from Mary Wegner, State Librarian of Iowa, was just sent to me by Kathel Dunn, Associate Director, NN/LM Middle Atlantic Region …

Some of you have asked about the effects of the flooding in Iowa on Iowa libraries. Thanks so much for your concern.

What we know so far is that three libraries have been seriously damaged:

Cedar Rapids Public Library’s main building in downtown Cedar Rapids; the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library located in the Czech Village in Cedar Rapids; and the New Hartford Public Library.

Cedar Rapids is the second largest city in Iowa, with a population of 120,000. Their entire downtown was completely flooded – hundreds of blocks – by the Cedar River which rose 19 feet above flood level. A photo of the public library standing in what looked to be at least 5 feet of water was heartbreaking.

Details are not yet known about the extent of the damage to the Cedar Rapids Public Library building, or how much of the collection has been lost. Unfortunately, we expect the damage to be significant – the building is only a block away from the river. The Czech-Slovak Museum and Library was able to load significant items from both the library and museum collections into two semi trailers, although many materials had to be left behind. The public library in New Hartford, population 659, lost 80% of its books and almost all of their computers.

Flooding in Iowa City, just 15 miles downstream from Cedar Rapids, was also severe. The University of Iowa campus runs along both sides of the river; at least 15 buildings were flooded. We had a report of two inches of water in parts of the basement of the University of Iowa Main Library in Iowa City, but fortunately flood waters from the river did not reach the library. As you may have seen in the news, there was a “book brigade” established in Iowa City to move books out of the lower level of the main university library building.

About seven additional public libraries (in Chelsea, Creston, Elkader, Iowa Falls, Rockford, St. Charles, and Waterloo) have had water damage ranging from mild to fairly serious. We believe that all of these libraries are now open, and that none of their collections were damaged.

We’ve been in touch with libraries along the Mississippi in southeast Iowa, and so far all report that they are safe.

We were fortunate in Des Moines – the levees mostly held in the two rivers which meet in downtown DM.

We have received many heartwarming stories about current heavy use of public libraries in and near the flooded areas. Several libraries have made special arrangements to add more computer terminals for public use.

This is yet another illustration that people turn to their libraries in a time of crisis – for information, for computers and internet access, and as a community gathering place.

The financial impact of the flooding, which occurred in scores of communities all across Iowa, is expected to be in the billions. 16 percent of Iowa’s 25 million tillable acres of farmland are or have been under water.

We’re posting updates about the flood situation on our Web site at

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