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Reopening of Cal State Library--an Upbeat Chapter in Quake Tale

January 26, 1988|LARRY GORDON | Times Education Writer

The Oct. 1 earthquake was cruel to the John F. Kennedy Library at Cal State Los Angeles. Nearly half of its 980,000 volumes were thrown to the floor, thousands of shelves were bent at grotesque angles and a pedestrian bridge between its wings nearly collapsed.

Much of the library, as a result, was declared off limits to the school's 22,000 students, hampering their research and making it difficult for them to find a quiet study place.

If the library is the heart of a university, it was as if this one had suffered cardiac arrest.

So, like a recuperated cardiac patient perkily doing a cartwheel, the library had a party Monday to show off its nearly full recovery. Students and librarians waved balloons of black and gold, the school's colors, and university officials happily snipped a ribbon strung across a staircase leading from the lobby to the once-jumbled stacks upstairs.

A free raffle was held, with prizes of gift certificates at the campus book store, a dictionary and coupons for the photocopying machines. A pizza luncheon followed.

Express Gratitude

"Today we are celebrating the restoration and expressing our gratitude to all those who made it possible," said Morris Posan, the university's head librarian.

To be sure, repair work remains. The bridge stands with the support of wooden pilings and will probably have to be replaced at the cost of $1.3 million, officials said. The heating and air-conditioning systems are still not functioning. Many walls display cracks. In addition, about 12,000 books need bindings fixed.

However, almost all the books are back in place, and the shelves are reinforced with steel cross bracings that are supposed to withstand quakes of up to 7.5 on the Richter scale. Such a quake would be several times stronger than the Oct. 1 temblor that caused $22 million in damage at Cal State Los Angeles and the death of one student who was crushed by a concrete panel that fell from a campus garage.

"If there is another earthquake, the books will still fall off, but the shelves won't collapse or tilt down," assistant librarian Barbara Case said. "It will be less of a problem."

Fearing further collapse of shelves, only librarians and student workers were allowed on upper floors at first, and they had to wear hard hats during the grueling reshelving, made even more unpleasant by the lack of heat and ventilation. Knowing it would be difficult for their students to do library work, some instructors scaled back the scope of their research paper assignments in the fall quarter. The cafeteria and student union did double duty as study halls.

Needed Magazines

"It was very inconvenient," recalled Agnes Yue, a senior business major from Highland Park, who said she had to drive all the way to Cal State Northridge to find periodicals she needed to read for her management class. "So everyone is very happy today."

"A big mess, chaotic," is the way Kevin Stokes, a junior and sociology major from Chicago, described the past few months at the library.

In phases, shelf areas were opened to the public over the past three months. Meanwhile, a van dubbed the Hemingway Express shuttled daily among eight other schools in the Los Angeles area to pick up loans of books, copies of which had not yet been dug out at Cal State Los Angeles.

Posan, a man with an obvious literary sense of humor, said that the now-discontinued shuttle was named after the famous love scene in Hemingway's novel, "For Whom the Bell Tolls," in which characters say they feel the earth move.

As a memory of the earth's movement in October, photos of some of the unusual damage at the library are on display in the lobby. In them, the shelves are seen slanting at odd angles--something librarians said they hope never again to see except in photographs.

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