Photo by DYLAN COUR
Not too long ago the city of Alma was hit with quite the rainstorm, causing a pipe to burst beneath the library. A drain connected to the archival room in the basement was where the water came spewing out.
“A storm water drain pump from the city failed during the heavy rain, and so storm water backed up through a drain and into the archives area of the library; that’s how it flooded,” said Matthew Collins, the library director on campus.
The archival room, as well as the MacCurdy room at the library, is where the college’s collection of rare books can be found.
Alma College is home to quite the collection of rare books, all given to the college by donors with a love and passion for them.
“[Alma College] doesn’t actively buy rare books. Rare books tend to be quite expensive and we don’t collect books in any particular area. What we have was donated to us at some point,” said Collins.
This flooding caused concern for the rare books, as water is detrimental to the condition of a book.
Luckily none of the rare books were ruined due to the flood water.
“We really kind of lucked out that [the water] wasn’t higher, because if it had been a lot of books there would have been damaged. Really it was just some boxes,” said Collins.
Many students may remember seeing large dryers in the basement for quite some time, accompanied by a putrid odor.
“The carpet got wet and the [debris] in the water made the carpet really smell–it was gross. Ryan in facilities told me that they had to vacuum out almost 2,000 gallons of water from the basement,” said Collins.
While the water did bring a horrendous smell, there was no sewage among the debris. The carpet has been completely dried, and the decision is still being made as to whether or not the carpet will be pulled up and replaced.
Rare books do not come easily, and are extremely expensive. Not only do they cost a pretty penny, but they must be maintained in a climate controlled room, and have minimal contact in order to preserve them.
“If you’re going to [keep] books that are older than about the 1800s you would have to have special environmental conditions to keep them under, and you’d need to restrict access and we’re just not set up to do that here. It’s a little beyond us, and quite frankly most small colleges don’t collect rare books,” said Collins.
Due to these factors, many colleges like Alma are unable to properly store rare books, which in turn makes them not last as long. This is another reason why these books are hard to acquire.
“Alma College does not really have anyone who specializes in rare books and for that reason not much has been done with them. I worked with some books that are located in the MacCurdy room that had never been catalogued formally and hadn’t been touched since the ‘60s. It is not really the fault of the library staff that they haven’t been taken care of properly, there just isn’t anyone to do that job,” said Cassie Florian (‘20).
While the college may not have the best available space to maintain these works as best as they wish they could, the college is still home to many rare books. These books are important to have so that students with an interest in rare books have a place to go to get their fix.
“Rare books are important not only because of their monetary value, but also because they are great historical artifacts. They are also just really cool to look at,” said Florian.
Collins said that while none of these books are currently considered damaged, there is still the potential for mold to grow. Only time will tell how many of these rare books truly made it out of this flood unscathed.