Albany library's entire collection exposed to smoke

Reprinted from the Athens Messenger:

Messenger staff writer

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

ALBANY - The entire Wells Public Library collection of books, periodicals, films, recorded music and audio cassettes has been subjected to some degree of damage as a result of a fire Saturday night.

Lauren Miller, director of Athens County Public Libraries, explained that at the very least, all materials have been exposed to the smoke - though the extent of the damage has not been determined.

The library intends to hire a local company for disaster restoration and salvage services.

"There was smoke throughout the entire building," Miller said. "We haven't received quotes on the damage - but if something can be salvaged, we'll do it."

Much of the library's collection is encased in Mylar - a form of polyester resin. Depending on the intensity of the heat, this plastic might have melted, which would destroy a book.

"We're not sure of the condition of the collection," she said Monday. "There is a process - we will be doing spot checks - but right now we're taking small steps."

Firefighters were called to the fire at 11:07 p.m. and were at the scene until 2 a.m. Sunday. As of Monday afternoon, the Bookmobile was stocked and open for business at the Albany Community Center, where it will reside weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"We'll be offering limited library services to the Albany community and surrounding area," Miller said.

The cause of the blaze is unknown and still under investigation, explained Dennis Ginty, a spokesman for the State Fire Marshal's Office.

"The length of the investigation of a fire varies from case to case," Ginty said.

It was reported by Albany Fire Chief Warren Keirns that the fire started in the library's staff room - which is stocked with a refrigerator, microwave, fax machine, computer and two printers. It had started to spread into the attic by the time firefighters had it extinguished. A total of 21 firefighters were at the scene, as well as volunteers from the Red Cross.

"The library system is grateful for the Albany, Nelsonville and The Plains fire departments who worked throughout the night, for Sandy Shirey who was handing out water with the Red Cross and for Deputy Jimmy Childs, who helped secure the area," Miller said.

Wells Public Library opened in its current building in 2000. It was the last of the seven library buildings - Athens, Chauncey, Coolville, Glouster, Nelsonville and The Plains - to be constructed under a library improvement program. It has a collection of approximately 27,200 items.

"Like all of our buildings, the administration had saved money for the construction," Miller said.

While the cause of the fire is under investigation, operations will continue with the efforts of staff and volunteers.

"We've got the building secure, now we're concentrating on getting library services back into the community, and we have teams taking care of other responsibilities," Miller said. "The library will be looking for community support and volunteers in the future."