A Whole Lot of Shaking Going On

by Kate MacMillan

Everyone has earthquake stories, but not everyone has library earthquake stories… In Napa, we have the story and the photos to go along with it!

For those who possibly didn’t hear, Napa experienced a major earthquake on August 24th at 3:20 am. Most people living in the West have experienced an earthquake at one time or another and most of us shrug them off as some sort of a badge of honor. Personally, I have been through a few major ‘quakes, including one in Los Angeles years ago, and one in Napa in 2000, which shook us at 5.2 on the Richter scale. Fourteen years later, the familiar trembling hit again and this one was registered 6.1.

Normally we don’t really think too much about how big “really big” is in terms of earthquakes. I had forgotten when measuring earthquakes, each little number means big gains: every number is exponentially larger, meaning this latest earthquake was actually 22 times larger than the one we experienced in 2000. But at that precise moment when the quake started to rumble and the house began to shake … I understood how much stronger it was!

Except for a devastated downtown area and a horrific mobile home park fire, most of us lost chimneys, had some sink holes and foundation damage. Inside our homes was another story of shattered glass, lost treasures, broken appliances and terrified animals. Initial cleanup began right away on the day of the earthquake, but the aftershocks made it difficult at best.

Our libraries throughout the district, usually so organized and tidy, did not escape the chaos. Even though school was cancelled while all buildings were safety inspected, we did have to report to our work site. It wasn’t until a week later that we had our first re-scheduled library de-brief meeting.

From the school libraries within our consortium, staff shared what they found when reentering their workplaces:

Napa High School: Thousands of books were on the floor. Half of the textbook room is still roped off and we had some ceiling and light fixture damage. It took six people all morning to re-shelve the books but only four books were lost due to spine damage.

Napa County Library: All of the books were off the shelves but re-shelved within one day. The upstairs offices were damaged, and the microfilm machines were damaged beyond repair. (Napa County Library is downtown and is currently housing government offices that were red-tagged as too dangerous to enter).

Bel Aire School: Librarians here were pleased to find minimal damage, and were thankful for the retrofitting completed last year. Some shelves collapsed but there were no major problems

Librarians at Pueblo Vista School arrived to find this mess after the earthquake.

Librarians at Pueblo Vista School arrived to find this mess after the earthquake.

Pueblo Vista School: The earthquake occurred during a book fair, so staff was met with a huge, huge mess. Today there are still broken windows and lights have yet to be replaced.

Harvest Middle School: The school was in the midst of textbooks circulations… so there were textbooks all over the library, broken shelves and more books on the floor.

The earthquake damage at Harvest Elementary.

The earthquake damage at Harvest Elementary.

Northwood School: Almost all the books in the library were on the ground. Nine shelves broke and were ripped off the bookcases. It took five people about eight hours to re-shelve everything. Computer monitors fell on the ground and books jumped shelves.

From our experience, here are some tips and things we learned the hard way: remember to keep flip flops by your bed; a working flash light and batteries; have plenty of water and a battery-operated cell phone charger. And plenty of help for re-shelving books!

Included are photos that probably say much more than this brief posting.

Kate MacMillan

Kate MacMillan


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