BILLINGS – Library patrons approaching the children’s area at the Billings Public Library are greeted with the hum of dryers and a sign that reads “The children’s area will be closed indefinitely.”
The sign went up after a ceiling pipe burst on Monday afternoon.
“Indefinitely” may sound like an eternity, but the library staff hopes to begin reopening portions of the children’s area as early as this Friday, or possibly on Monday of next week.
The pipe burst happened during planned HVAC maintenance for a few leaks. Because of that, the children’s area was scheduled to be closed the entire day and no library staff or patrons were injured.
Library employees spent the day Monday sorting out the books to figure out which ones are salvageable and which ones were destroyed.
Children’s Librarian Allynne Ellis accessed the library catalog and estimates roughly 2,400 books were within the impacted area of the pipe burst.
After sorting, Ellis believes two-thirds of those books were destroyed.
The books weren’t only covered in water, but also a non-toxic chemical named propylene glycol, which is used in HVAC systems.
Juvenile fiction had the biggest loss.
Library and Facility Coordinator Jamie Bratlie predicts it will take months to replace the destroyed books, but some can never be replaced.
“Some of it we may not be able to replace, it’s out of print,” Bratlie explained.
The first section of the children’s area to reopen to patrons will likely be the 5-and-under collection.
Along with books, one computer was destroyed, and several ceiling tiles and carpet squares need to be replaced.
Floor panels were removed to circulate air beneath the raised flooring that houses electrical cables.
Since May is a slower time of year for the children’s area, many of the library’s usual programming takes a break during the month and resumes in June.
Bratlie reassured that the summer reading program, which is scheduled to begin June 6, will not be cancelled.
“Our programs will not be affected at all. The access to the collections is going to be impacted for a little while. Put items on hold, we’ll get them as quick as we can and as soon as we can,” Bratlie said.
When asked what the public can do to help in a situation like this, Bratlie asked for patience and understanding.