LSU students remember the first weekend of November 2018 as the Saturday the Tigers lost to the University of Alabama 29-0. While LSU football fans despaired over this crushing loss, on the other side of campus, water was seeping through the basement of Middleton Library.
Three months later, and water is still coming in through the north wall of the library basement room 53. The wall, once concealed by shelves stocked with government documents, now sits bare, the floor surrounding it stripped of tile. Puddles pool at the base of the wall, around the abandoned service desk and between the stacks.
“I can’t overstate what an emergency it is and the danger it poses to this incredibly wonderful research library,” said Stanley Wilder, dean of LSU libraries. He added, “We’re in crisis mode down there.”
While materials have been removed from parts of the north wall and the center of room 53, the library has maintained the majority of its storage space in the basement, said Tammy Millican, executive director of Facility and Property Oversight.
But the basement didn’t just store government documents. It also holds an overflow of special collections from Hill Memorial Library — rare materials in danger of being ruined if the water intrusion gets worse, Wilder said.
“As things stand now, I don’t have a way of protecting them, and that makes me frantic,” Wilder said. “We’re kind of at loose ends trying to find ways of containing the damage.”
Facility Services tested the incoming water and determined the leak consists of groundwater, which isn’t at risk for contamination, Millican said. Facility Services has prevented mold from spreading so far by isolating the water intrusion and removing the water immediately.
The library basement temperature was lowered to decrease humidity to prevent the spread of mold on paper materials, according to a work order.
Wilder said as spring approaches, he worries about the rising water table. He said the influx of water into the basement increases “the potential for a fast and massive mold outbreak that could sweep through those paper collections.”
“We have this sort of Game of Thrones idea that ‘Spring is coming,’” Wilder said.
This isn’t the first time the Middleton basement has experienced water issues. The University has documentation indicating intermittent ground water intrusion in the basement since the 1980s, Millican said.
More recently, the University has completed two waterproofing projects to curb the water intrusions, Millican said. The first focused on the east and south sides of the basement and was completed in 2011 at a cost of $323,000. The University finished waterproofing the south side and started on part of the west in 2018 at a cost of $530,000.
But this leak isn’t like the others Wilder has seen. The water intrusion has gradually worsened since Hayley Johnson, head of government documents and microforms, first reported the leak to Facility Services on Nov. 2, according to a work order.
Johnson reported that she did not know the cause of the leak but that there was standing water in the basement on Nov. 2. Later that day, Custodian Supervisor Christopher Hopkins filed a work order describing the water intrusion as “leaking at a steady pace” from behind the bookshelves on the north wall, with water being cleaned up every 20 minutes.
Wilder said he relocated the government documents staff immediately after the water intrusion proved more extensive than previous water issues. There are also 40 other staff members working in a separate office space in the basement, but they haven’t had to relocate them yet. Wilder said they’re continually monitoring the air quality in the basement.
The library basement closed as a service point by Thanksgiving break, and library staff and Facility Services began moving microformat cabinets and government documents after Thanksgiving and throughout the Christmas break, Wilder said.
Since the leak began, the library staff, especially those in the government documents department, have been pitching in to help clear water and microform cabinets from the basement, Wilder said.
Despite the leak, the library is still providing access to government documents and other materials stored in the basement.
“I think this is our new normal for the foreseeable [future] until we hear otherwise from Facilities and everyone else who has to figure out the issues,” Johnson said.
Students and faculty looking for a specific material can request it through Access Services on the second floor of Middleton Library. Others who need assistance with a general reference question relating to government documents can set up a consultation with Johnson or Tasha McClain, a government documents resource librarian.
Inter-library loan requests for government documents or other materials stored in the basement are still being filled, Wilder said.
“Of course we understand that that’s one of the busiest and most used buildings on campus, so we’re working very hard to make sure that we don’t disrupt services to the students,” Millican said.
The University’s 2017 Master Plan includes building a new library to replace Middleton. But the Master Plan is a 10- to 20-year projection for campus, so it could be a while before plans for the new library come to fruition.
“I think that the Middleton basement problems ought to be viewed as adding urgency to those conversations,” Wilder said. “How does LSU propose to provide research library services to its community? I think we’ve gone from a situation where we should build a new library to we have to [build] one.”