Colorado State’s Morgan Library Marks 10 Years After Devastating Flood

Note to Editors: Colorado State University Libraries will mark the 10th year since the 1997 flood with an exhibit in Archives and Special Collections, which opens July 27 and runs through August 27 in room 202 of Morgan Library. The public is invited to visit the archive Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. to view materials that detail the disaster. For before-and-after photographs of the Morgan Library, visit online at and click on the header for this release.

On the evening of July 28, 1997, a 7-foot wall of water descended on the newly renovated Morgan Library at Colorado State University. Nearly 500,000 volumes including the library’s bound journal collection and a substantial portion of the sciences, social sciences and humanities books were lost to the murky waters and raw sewage rushing in.

The flood is considered one of the most devastating disasters to hit an academic library, topped only by the damage wrought by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"What cannot be regained is the tremendous human effort it has taken over the last 10 years to rebuild the libraries’ collection," said Catherine Murray-Rust, dean of University Libraries at Colorado State.

Clean-up in the days following the disaster involved more than 100 people packing nearly 70,000 boxes full of soggy materials to be shipped to a special freezing facility in Fort Worth, Texas, where the long process began of sorting and restoring volumes that could be salvaged. The basement Morgan Library would also undergo major repair. Much of the brand-new shelving and flooring needed replacement. Mitigation was needed for mold that quickly began to spread in the July heat up the walls of the basement, threatening the rest of the library’s collection housed on the floors above.

A decade after the flood, the library has been repaired, which included the challenging goal of replacing and re-cataloging many of the almost 500,000 damaged volumes. Morgan Library has emerged as an international leader in disaster preparedness for library and archival materials, interlibrary loan programs, information literacy education, and providing patrons with electronic resources and services.

The devastation left Morgan Library without critical resources at a time when students would be returning in 28 days for the fall semester. The immediate solution was to bus students and faculty to surrounding university libraries. The Interlibrary Loan staff began to design an article delivery service which would offset the temporary loss of onsite access to the heavily used print journal collection.

This was the beginning of RapidILL, a revolutionary article delivery service designed for mutual benefit among groups of libraries. RapidILL provides fast, cost-effective document delivery from library collections, delivering articles to user desktops in two days or less (the fastest request filled at Morgan Library was reported as four minutes) and reducing traditional inter-library loan costs by 70 percent. The system involves the delivery of items that are not digitized or available in any form on the Web. Traditionally, these items would have to be photocopied and mailed.

"RapidILL is growing rapidly in recognition by the research library community, with participation growing almost 80 percent during the past year," said Julie Wessling, assistant dean of University Libraries at Colorado State and head of the ILL program.

Today, RapidILL has grown to include more than 70 libraries in the U.S. and Asia; more than half of the participants represent the largest research libraries in the nation belonging to the Association of Research Libraries. Participants include Princeton University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia University, Cornell University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan, Purdue University, New York University, University of Hong Kong and National Taiwan University.

The library’s teaching lab, originally located in the basement, was also destroyed in the flood, requiring the library to evaluate its information literacy education program.

"The libraries play a critical role in educating students and teaching them research skills," said Assistant Dean of Libraries Julie Wessling. "When the lab was destroyed, it pushed us to design multimedia Web-based instruction modules so that students could learn how to do research online."

Today, the instructional program continues to expand. The teaching labs in Morgan Library accommodate 30-40 students and the libraries offers education programs from basic research techniques to advanced subject-specific searching. When students return in this fall, they will be able to download podcasts detailing how to use the library and how to conduct quality research right to their iPods.

The flood also required Colorado State to upgrade the library infrastructure and provide state-of-the-art computing access and online resources to all of campus. When the flood hit, the libraries supported 56 computer stations. Today, Morgan Library is the largest computing center on campus with 300 desktop and 200 laptop computers that available for checkout.

About 73 percent of the journals are now available electronically, and the library has gone from eight to 198 research databases and tools accessible from labs, dorms and offices.

"At the time, our collection of electronic resources was negligible," said Patricia Smith, coordinator for Collections and Contracts. "Now, students, faculty and staff have a way of getting critical materials from anywhere."

Millions of dollars worth of collections were donated to CSU following the flood. Publishers and university presses, such as Springer-Verlag, Elsevier, John Wiley Publishers, Haworth Press and Clarendon Press at Oxford University, each donated hundreds of books or journals in subject areas that were lost in the flood, collections worth millions. Other universities in Colorado and nationwide also have made major contributions. Alumni and friends donated more than $160,000 to help with flood relief.

"At the time our collection of electronic resources was negligible," says Patricia Smith, coordinator for Collections and Contracts. "Now, students, faculty and staff have a way of getting at critical materials from anywhere."

"Rebuilding would not have been possible without the incredible efforts of our faculty and staff and the support of donors," Murray-Rust noted. "Private support for the libraries is continuing to grow our collections."