After two years following the May 2020 flood, the Grace A. Dow Memorial Library is fully reopened

Once again, the Grace A. Dow Memorial Library roars back to life – this time on June 6 when the grand lady re-opened – again – after the tragedy that is Covid-19 and the May 2020 flood. 

It had been shuddered,  or almost so,  for 25 months. It was the second time in its 77-year life that flooding has occurred.  The first was in June 2017 when storm water flooded its lower level, closing that level for 12 months.   

Now, with all repairs done, it quietly dazzles with newness and energy.  
These shelves were “rescued” from floodwaters and were damaged, as signs and tape warn. New shelving has been ordered but has not yet arrived.
This is especially true on the lower level but also throughout because of innovative services such as take-home kits that patrons had suggested.  Library staff now had time to consider these ideas and ways to implement them (examples are below). 

Asked about the Library’s immediate challenge, Director Miriam Andrus puts it this way:

“Getting patrons to come back after having the building closed for so long is a big challenge.  Even with mailers and advertising, it is difficult to spread the word that the Library is fully open and accessible.” 

Even so, a partial opening in April saw 10,549 adults visit for the month and on opening day alone, 4,484 came, says Kathy Brown, Supervisor of Information Services.  A former Head Start and elementary teacher, she has been with the Library for 24 years.   

Ms. Brown talked with a Catalyst Midland reporter during a tour last week.

She says her first reaction to the flood damage was that “it was horrible, certainly an unpleasant situation.”  The entire lower level was flooded  -- youth and teen services, computer lab, conference rooms, MCTV and mechanical rooms. Carpet, drywall, mechanical equipment and electrical all had to be replaced, she notes.  
Kathy Brown shows off “Tug of Boats,” one of many Discovery Kits ready for check-out.
Staff also feared that ground-level windows may burst because of the pressure of dirty flood water 14 inches high outside, against the windows.  A fish was seen swimming outside.   Windows held.  The exterior water level has been “memorialized” with the inside  installation of a thin, blue-tinted film 14 inches deep.  Fish swim happily on the film.

Several inches of flood water covered all floor surfaces; City pumps were brought in to pump it safely outside, near drains.  Low-tech squeegees proved necessary and helpful.

The critical challenge, she says, was to get more than 65,000 books and audiovisual materials safely and quickly out of harm’s way, especially since exposure to prolonged moisture or high humidity essentially ruins books.

Now, the big problem was how to do so: 

“Most staff were furloughed, partly or fully when the flooding occurred.  We had help from staff in other city departments, community volunteers and the National Guard,” she says, noting “ Priority was to get items removed from flooded areas quickly and safely.” 

She notes that overall damage was worse this time, especially to the building, compared to that of the June 2017 flood.  

“We got the books and other materials out and said ‘Okay, we need a reset.’”

This “reset” turns out to be quite an understatement.

First ever in the library – an intimate and cozy place to nurse or change babies. Note the privacy film on windows.
With the Library closed then and many employees still furloughed, the challenge to the remaining staff was brainstorming ideas to improve patrons’ library experience.  The staff, she says, did not suddenly come up with innovative services.  Rather, a collective two-year hiatus from business-as-usual provided time for remaining staff to think and share – “what if” sort of stuff, essentially.   

Many of the “what ifs” are now on display and it is impressive and bold. Physically, the focus is on the lower level, although changes have also been made to the main level and mezzanine.  For example:

Staff offices for eight employees have moved from the lower level to the mezzanine, opening space to add two requested services.  The largest is a never-before workshop called MidLab and when it is fully equipped, teens and adults will have access to sewing machines, laser-guided cutters, a heat press, glow forge, hand tools and more.  

A star attraction, Ms. Brown predicts, will be the Cricut®  brand of laser etching and cutting tools.  An Internet check of this machine suggests this technology has become immensely popular with home crafters because of its precision to easily cut, etch and more for projects built from paper, card stock, wood, leather and similar materials.
MidLab is not yet open for crafting because not all of the equipment is in place and the staff is working on policies and procedures.
MidLab is not ready for people and  projects yet, but the room is open occasionally for patrons to look around.   

Next to the lab is a smaller room – a quiet place for nursing babies, changing diapers and simply relax.  It is a bright , cheery and nicely furnished place.  Privacy is assured by tinted film on windows.  It is open now.  

Youth Services and Teen Spot rooms occupy most of the lower level; both MidLab and the Nursing Room are accessed  through Youth Services.  

Changes made to the youth room include new carpeting and the addition of a play structure,  donated by Friends of the Library.  And the fish film on the wall of windows. 

 Shelving has also been reset to provide a more open and inviting feeling within the room.  New wood shelving has not arrived.   The existing shelving was dismantled and removed from the room early in the flood response; then reassembled recently.  Caution signs abound  because of sharp or rough edges.

The Youth Spot was rebuilt after the 2017 flood.  Like the adjacent youth room, the 2020 flood destroyed carpeting, some materials.  A massive sofa that was a highlight of the 2017 restoration has been replaced by several separate bench-table configurations for teen patrons to study and interact in small groups.   

Also brewing in staffers’ mind pre-flood, Ms. Brown recalls, was an opportunity to provide kits focused on specific learning areas that patrons of a range of ages can check out.  These include:  

 
  • Discovery  Kit:  Focuses  on science, technology, engineering and mathematics learning (STEM)
 
  • Adaptive and Learning toys:  Includes toys in a book format for special needs kid that “show and tell” the lesson at hand with e-visuals and story telling 
 
  • Literacy kits for grades K-3: Focuses on phonics, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension
 
  • Math kits for pre-K to K:  Focuses on counting, sorting patterns and measures
 
  • Memory kits:  Themed materials to spark conversation and memories for use with adults with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
 
  • Library of Things:  Items  include board games puzzles, yard games and more  

“Staff and patrons are happy and excited,” Ms. Brown says.  “It has taken two years to get to this point and it’s nice to be back to normal.  Patrons have missed having areas to gather and have access to materials.

“The Quiet Room reopening has been something adult patrons are particularly excited about.”

The library serves City of Midland residents and those of these townships in Midland County: Homer, Hope, Ingersoll, Jerome , Larkin, Lee, Lincoln, Midland and Mt. Haley.  Library cards are free.

More information as well as videos of the 2020 flooding and cleanup can be found on the library’s website www.gadml.org .