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Earthquake: The Long Road Back : Librarians Read the Writing on the Floor : Cleanup: Hundreds of thousands--maybe millions--of books fell. And someone has to pick them up.

January 20, 1994|MATHIS CHAZANOV | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Let's say, like most of us, you had a few books fly off the shelves during the earthquake. Now imagine what it's like to be Gloria Werner, with more than 1 million volumes on the floor.

Werner is university librarian at UCLA, where there are more than 6 million books stored in 13 buildings on campus--so many that she doesn't really know how bad the situation is deep in the stacks.

She just knows it's bad.

"There's always a few books misshelved, but when we came into the University Research Library on Monday, they were piled three feet high on the top floor," she said. "It was just a disaster zone."

In numerous Los Angeles-area libraries, Monday's earthquake brought books raining down from the shelves. In older buildings, some of the shelves were twisted out of shape.

At UCLA, only a third of the books at the research library hit the deck, but a third of the research library's holdings is nothing to sneeze at. That's about 600,000 volumes in need of reshelving.

Then there's the physics, engineering and math sciences libraries, all in buildings that have yet to be reopened because of possible structural damage.

"We think over 70% of their collections hit the floor," she said.

After three days of frantic sorting and shelving, three library buildings were opened Wednesday, and Werner said she hopes that all but physics, engineering and math sciences will be ready for business next week. Staff, faculty and student volunteers helped do the job.

Closer to the epicenter, the library at Cal State Northridge suffered broken windows, a collapsed roof and possible destruction of a robotic book retrieval system.

With the building closed to all until late Wednesday, it was too early to say just how badly the library was hit.

At Santa Monica College, head librarian Mona Martin found herself knee-deep in books and magazines Monday morning, with about 70% of her 100,000-volume collection on the floor.

A call for help on the college radio station attracted 60 volunteers to the college library Wednesday. The volunteers were busily picking books up off the floor and stacking them so librarians could return them to the shelves.

In the Santa Monica Public Library, about 350,000 books hit the floor. Efforts to restack them were frustrated by the discovery of possible structural damage to the main library building.

In Beverly Hills, library director Michael Steinfeld showed off pictures of aisles awash in novels and newspapers on the day of the quake--then pointed to the neat aisles where librarians were busy checking that all was in order.

"It was just hopeless," he said. "I thought we'd never open again," he said. "But the staff has been fantastic and the building already looks a lot better."

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