JOPLIN — The public library in Joplin escaped damage from a tornado that devastated the city, but the institution still lost thousands of dollars' worth of items when residents couldn't locate the books or DVDs they'd checked out or found the items were too badly damaged to be salvaged.
Between 1,200 and 1,500 items were lost, with an estimated value of $30,000, Joplin Public Library Director Jacque Gage said. And in the two months after the May 22 tornado, the library waived about $35,000 in fines and fees for residents trying to recover from the storm, The Joplin Globe reported.
Gage said many library patrons who were victims of the storm were too conscientious.
"We had people the next morning — at 9 a.m. in the morning — we had people calling, saying, 'I'm sorry, but my stuff was destroyed in the tornado, and I had library books. What do I do?'" she said.
Gage said some residents tried to return books, but they were either too wet or moldy to be repaired. Or, they had glass or pieces of drywall embedded in them.
"Some were brought in with mud and twisted covers," she said. "If it went through the tornado, it was not salvageable."
The library's insurance company, America First Insurance, covers damage only to materials that are inside the building, she said.
About a dozen patrons whose homeowners insurance included damaged library materials have reimbursed the library, she said.
The library was able to replace most of its destroyed collection, thanks to the Missouri State Library, which added about $43,000 to a $5,000 grant that it had previously awarded the Joplin library to build its collection.
The money replaced everything that had been destroyed except some books that are out of print. It also allowed the library to buy books and materials on topics to help Joplin residents, such as house plans, landscaping, home repair, green building, safe rooms and stress management, Gage said.
For a month after the tornado, the library offered a supplemental computer lab to all the people who needed access to the Internet. The state library gave the Joplin library a grant of $40,909 to permanently expand the computer lab, to add eight more computers and fund public Wi-Fi access.
The library will encounter other losses because it is funded by property taxes. Based on estimates by the city's Finance Department, Gage budgeted a drop of $41,430 in property tax revenue for fiscal year 2012 to $1.44 million.
"Everybody tightened their belt as tight as they could," Gage said. "But, you know, we'll see what next year brings. It's a guessing game."