May 21, 2010

Fire Ravages CIU Library

The G. Allen Fleece Library at Columbia International University in Columbia, South Carolina was heavily damaged by an intense early morning fire May 8. The library was closed at the time and there were no injuries, but there was heavy fire damage to both floors at the rear of the two-story library, and heavy smoke damage throughout the library. The cause of the was an electrical problem in a fluorescent ceiling light.
Since the fire, CIU Library Director Jo Ann Rhodes says she has been heartened by an outpouring of support from fellow librarians around South Carolina who say their libraries are open to CIU students to visit, if needed.

CIU President Bill Jones announced the official damage toll at $2.5 million, which is covered by insurance. Jones also said instead of just restoring the library, CIU will begin a $2 million renovation of the library. Rhodes says among the major losses are rare Bibles that were translated into the languages of remote people groups by CIU alumni.

Clean-up after the fires has seen stacks and stacks of carefully-labeled boxes carted out of the smoke-scented G. Allen Fleece Library. In the boxes are survivors; the books that didn't burn in the fire that heavily damaged the Bible, Bible commentary and theology section of the library.

The books were taken away in waiting tractor-trailer trucks by the Blackmon Mooring company of Suwanee, Ga. and hauled to Atlanta and Dallas where the books are being treated for odor and water damage. Each box is labeled with the category of book that is inside, the row it was in, and what floor it was on.

As Blackmon Mooring spokesman John Dorn was directing workers rolling the boxes out the door of the library on dollies and to the trucks, he explained what will happen to the books once they reach their destination.

"They will be put in an ozone layer to be deodorized," Dorn said. "Once they are deodorized, they'll be packed up, put on pallets and readied to be brought back here to the library."

Dorn says the books that are still wet from water damage will go through a freeze-dry process that keeps ink from running.

"And if it is wet, it will stop any microbial growth," Dorn added.

Blackmon Mooring has quite a bit of experience cleaning up libraries. Dorn says in 2006, the company loaded 17 semis with books from the University of New Mexico library after a fire there did $17 million in damages.

Columbia International University junior Johnisha Campbell was preoccupied when she hurried from the CIU library on the day before the fire. But it wasn't until she received an e-mail from a CIU staff member that she realized the flash drive, with important finals week homework on it, had been left behind. It was found during cleaning.

"The metal of my flash drive is slightly bent and it smells like smoke, but God was faithful and preserved all my hard work," Campbell said. "I truly believe this is also true for our library. Although it was damaged, God is faithful and will bless us more than we could imagine."

CIU Library Director Rhodes is hoping the library will be back to normal by the fall semester, but no official target date has been set. No donations of books are being accepted at this time because the library does not have a climate-controlled space to store them. Plus the library is still in the process of determining what has been lost from its collection. Bob Kallgren, CIU vice president for institutional effectiveness says that when actual losses are evaluated, the library will better know what it needs. "We are deeply touched by the hundreds of offers of donations and other assistance," Kallgren said.

To view more photos of the fire and its aftermath see the CIU Flickr site.

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