July 24, 2017

6,000 books destroyed in Phoenix Library flood


A photo of the damage to the Burton Barr’s roof from the Phoenix Fire Department.

It is monsoon season in the Valley of the Sun, Phoenix, Arizona.

That’s right, buckaroo, the 120-plus-degree summer afternoon hellscapes that bring life here to a standstill are punctuated by evenings of brutal winds, world-dimming dust storms, world-re-illuminating lightning, and heavy rains. It’s the Book of Revelations made animate, and a fine place to live (if my own teenage years can speak for the whole).

But earlier this month, some unholy combination of these factors caused a pipe on the roof of Phoenix’s Burton Barr Library to burst, leading to substantial flooding. 6,000 books were damaged, which is a staggering casualty rate, but luckily nowhere near as bad as it could’ve been. AZCentral.com’s BrieAnna J. Frank reports: “While libraries ‘never want to lose one book,’ that number is a small fraction of Burton Barr’s 500,000-book collection, said Lee Franklin, spokeswoman for the Phoenix Public Library. Most of the damaged books came from the library’s reference section and were older materials such as almanacs, atlases and encyclopedias, Franklin said.”

The damage represents a relatively small financial loss, too, particularly in that Burton Barr’s art collection was able to be saved and shipped to the Phoenix Art Museum. As of this writing, the library is closed indefinitely.

While the roof was actually designed to move in the wave-like fashion it did under the pressure of July 15th’s monsoon gusts, the building’s fire sprinkler system was damaged in unforeseen ways. Firefighters and cleaning crews are working to reopen the facility, an architectural gem in central Phoenix and a much-relied-upon refuge from the heat. Meanwhile, the entire staff—and many of books—have been transferred to other branches around the valley.

Though this is a real heartbreaker of a story, it should not be understood to mean that bookless libraries are an alternative, or that real estate developers might have better ideas for the sacred spaces on which libraries stand. You guys already know that, but it’s been a long, hot weekend so I just wanted to check in.




Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.