The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 28, 2011

Mike Pound: State library to help write a new chapter

By Mike Pound

— Sometimes the obvious things escape me.

Like the other day, when Gloria Turner was talking to me about the Joplin Public Library. Gloria, who used to work here at the Globe and actually was the person who hired me (yep, she’s the one to blame), mentioned that on a recent visit to the library, she asked one of the employees if the library lost any books in the tornado.

I wanted to say, “Gee, Gloria, the last time I checked, the library was not in the path of the storm,” but then it dawned on me that Gloria’s question made all the sense in the world. See, since the library is in the business of lending books to folks, it’s quite feasible that many of the books the library recently lent may have been lent to people who lived in the path of the May 22 tornado. And if that were the case, it’s quite possible that many of those library books were lost or ruined.

So on Tuesday I called Jacque Gage, the director of the Joplin Public Library, and asked how many books were lost in the tornado.

“My guess right now is we lost about $35,000 worth of books,” she said.

Jacque said the $35,000 represents more than 1,000 books, and that it’s entirely possible that when the final tally is complete, both the number of lost or damaged books and the dollar value associated with those loses will increase.

Jacque said that as soon as she was able to verify that all of the library employees were safe and accounted for, she turned her attention to the possibility that hundreds if not thousands of books would be lost. As early as 9 a.m. the day after the storm, she learned that possibility was a reality.

“At 9 a.m., I received a call from someone who said, ‘I’m so sorry, but all of my (library) books have been blown away,’” Jacque said. “And I wanted to say, ‘Are you kidding? That’s the last thing you should have to worry about.’”

In other words, while Jacque is not thrilled about losing library books, she figures that missing books are sort of way down the list of things to worry about.

“In the whole scheme of things, there are other issues,” she said.

Jacque’s right, but still, the idea that the library is out all of those books bothers me. Or it did until Jacque told me that she’s confident the library will be able to replace those lost books. Shortly after the tornado, the Missouri State Library — a branch of the Missouri secretary of state’s office — contacted her.

“They were first concerned about us (the library’s staff),” she said.

But later, the folks with the state library started looking for ways to help. What the state agency did was find $42,000 in federal grant money to replace the lost or damaged books. In addition, some of the grant money can be used to purchase books and videos that would be specifically beneficial to the Joplin area. Books or videos dealing with post-traumatic stress, for example, or items on landscaping, home construction tips or green energy.

“Really, just about anything you can think of that might be beneficial to the community right now is eligible through the grant,” Jacque said.

I told her that I felt much better knowing that the library is not on the hook for $35,000 in lost books.

“I do too,” she said.

Jacque is sort of the master of the understatement.

Since the tornado, Jacque said, the library staff has waived more than $31,000 in fines and fees. Jacque is a librarian, not a public relations person, but she said she figured that sticking folks with fines for overdue books or fees for books that were lost in the tornado would be the wrong thing to do.

Call it a hunch on her part.

Even though it sounds as if the library will be able to replace all the books that were lost to the storm, Gloria still has an idea that I think has some merit.

If you did lose a library book or two to the storm, maybe later — once you’ve settled with your insurance company — you might, if you can spare the cash, want to donate 10 bucks or so to the library.

It’s just a thought.