LIBERTY — When folks ask Casey County Public Library Director Jan Banks why the much-used facility has been closed for more than four months, the easy answer is storm damage.
Which is true. Water from storms that had backed up above the library's main room came gushing through the ceiling on July 19, creating quite a mess along the eastern wall. More than a few books got soaked.
But the real reason behind the library’s extended shutdown is a bit more fantastic and spookier — bats! More specifically, bat guano that had accumulated in the storm water was unleashed, causing potential contamination that has required a lot more than a mop and bucket to clean up.
“We had to let it dry out first, then attack the bats,” Banks explained last week as she and a crew of volunteers and jail inmates hustled to get all the decontaminated books back in their proper order on the shelves, the last task in what has been an arduous, painstaking clean-up process that will culminate in Monday’s grand reopening of the library.
“We had water. We had bat guano. We had dead birds. We had a little bit of everything,” Banks said.
To make sure the job was done right, professional help was brought in. National firm Serve Pro handled the initial cleanup and American Bio Systems came in to oversee the decontamination work.
“Histoplasmosis is carried by airborne spores. Every horizontal surface had to be wiped down. We didn’t want people coming back in here if it wasn’t a safe environment.”
About 1,000 books could not be salvaged. But between 28,000 to 30,000 volumes were hauled out of the library, individually cleaned and returned to circulation. New ceiling tiles, paint, energy-efficient lighting and other improvements were also part of the restoration project, which cost $223,000.
Insurance covered about a quarter of that price tag but bats were not part of the policy, Banks said. The library had been keeping some money in reserve for improvements it planned to make in coming years and used it pay off the renovation.
Even though the main library has been out of commission since July, the staff has continued to offer as many services as possible. It’s bookmobile stayed on the road and another one was borrowed from Pulaski County and set up outside the library’s main entrance so patrons could still come in to borrow books.
Programs such as computer classes were offered in spare rooms at businesses around town.Two laptops were made available for patrons to take outside and sit on benches while they surfed the web.
“The community has been great, very patient, as we’ve gone through this,” Banks said.
Patron Don Coffman, who visits the library three or five times a week, returned the compliment.
“It’s been a very difficult time. They’ve made a heroic effort to keep books in circulation while they’ve been down,” said Coffman, a retired teacher who regularly volunteers at the library. “It’s going to be great to back in it. I’ve missed the library immensely and I know a lot of other people have, too.”
To go along with a revamped interior, Banks said partons will find 1,700 new books, movies and audios selections to peruse, faster Internet connections, Kindle e-readers available for checkout and an upgraded community room. Also, overdue fines will be waived on all material returned before the end of the year.
Banks has been director of the library since it opened in 1976 and the bat infestation caught her completely off guard. As many as 80 brown bats took up residence in the attic space via a small hole on the exterior without alerting anyone at the library to their presence. Bats are active at night and sleep during the day, allowing them to go undetected until the ceiling caved in, she said.
“In the 36 years I’ve been here, I have found two bats,” Banks said. “I had no idea.”