Coffs Library inundated with water!

November 23 1996 was a night to be remembered in Coffs Harbour when nearly 400mm of water fell from the sky in a four hour period, resulting in flash flooding which affected many residents and businesses in the CBD. The flood (or storm event as it was also called) was significantly larger than the previously estimated 100 year flood and was in fact the biggest flood in living memory at that time to hit the Coffs Harbour area.

Coffs Harbour Library did not escape this event unscathed.

Water 40cm deep surged under the library doors on that Saturday evening ruining over 11,000 books, some of which were expensive reference items as well as irreplaceable local studies resources that are still missed today. Rare items that were considered salvageable were sent to Brisbane for freeze-drying to try and draw the moisture out of them.

Library staff and volunteers worked together in conditions that were humid, muddy and rather malodorous as they removed sodden carpets, damaged computers, and mounds of books that were unceremoniously loaded into council trucks headed for the tip. This was heart breaking work for the library staff to see all those precious items being thrown out, just as it would have been for community members doing the same thing in their own homes.

Mould was a serious issue that staff had to contend with – damp books in a humid environment created the ideal breeding ground for mould to spread to other books in the collection. So in order to protect the remaining stock, once all the damaged books and carpet had been removed, dehumidifiers and cooling fans sourced from Brisbane were bought in. These were designed to reduce the humidity to 60% which was considered a safe level as far as mould inhibition was concerned. These ran for a full week, alongside the library air-conditioning which operated 24 hours a day for the entire week.

Public libraries rarely like to be closed for any length of time, so it makes you realise how extensive the damage was that the Coffs Library remained closed for a week. During that time Toormina Library stepped into the breach with extended opening hours to ensure that our community still had access to a library service.  In addition to normal library services, staff were fielding a number of enquiries from concerned borrowers that had water damaged library books at home to contend with.

The silver lining during this time was that staff were able to re-arrange the interior of the library whilst it was closed, to a plan that had been designed months earlier. This meant inter-changing the Reference and Children’s Collections, re-locating the video and music collections to the former reading area and creating a whole new reading area at the front of the library. Feedback from the public after the library re-opened on December 2 was favourable – even if there was no carpet!

Written by Liz Thomas

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