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Which U.S. States’ Libraries are Most at Risk for Flooding?

The floods that hit southern Louisiana in 2016 were reportedly the worst natural disaster to affect the United States since 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. As rainfall levels reached record highs and rivers swelled, up to eight inches of floodwaters infiltrated the East Baton Rouge Parish Library’s Greenwell Springs Regional Branch. Out of the library’s 140,000-book collection, as many as 22,000 items were lost. Several required water-damaged-book restoration. Floods pose a threat to one of the greatest resources on the planet—books. Water damage in libraries can prove catastrophic, especially when wet documents don’t receive prompt attention.

What Makes an Area More at Risk for Flooding?

Every state in the nation is vulnerable to flooding throughout the year. There are factors, however, that increase an area’s risk of flash floods, coastal flooding and river flooding:

  • Urban areas: Cities and suburbs tend to have a greater number of flooding events than their rural counterparts. Because these areas don’t have much open soil to absorb water, precipitation travels through the streets. In periods of heavy rain, draining canals and sewage systems may not have the capacity to drain the water appropriately.
  • Snowmelt: Areas that receive an abundance of snowfall may experience flooding when rains melt the snow quickly, leading to river flooding.  
  • Arid areas: When the ground is perpetually dry, like in the desert, it doesn’t soak in rain readily. As a result, rainwater runoff fills creeks, dry streams and rivers rapidly, leading to flash floods.
  • Coastal areas: Coastal areas are affected by heavy rainfall, high tides, atmospheric pressure gradients, storm surges, and onshore wind flows from storms.

U.S. States Most at Risk of Water Damage in Libraries

California

The Golden State shares its western border with the Pacific Ocean, has sprawling urban areas, snowfall in the mountains, and deserts, making it vulnerable to a variety of flood types. California has 181 public libraries branches with 1,116 public library outlets and over 3,000 librarians. The state is home to some of the largest libraries in regards to the size of population served, the number of materials in their collections, and annual circulations. In 2012, for instance, the Los Angeles Public Library served 13.8 million visitors and had 6,301,338 print materials, 37,077 electronic books, and 582,658 audio and video materials.

Louisiana

Louisiana public libraries are susceptible to coastal flooding, especially since the state has 1,200 square miles of dry land that sits no more than a meter above sea level. The lower elevations make it more difficult for heavy rainfall to drain appropriately. In 2015, Louisiana had 68 public library systems with 339 public facilities, 27 bookmobiles and over 1,000 librarians. The libraries had 15,883,574 items in their collections and 21,036,239 materials in circulation. Residents visited Louisiana public libraries over 18.6 million times in 2015.  

Florida

The Sunshine State’s 638 square miles of coastline are less than a meter above sea level. In addition to tropical storms with torrential rains and high wind speeds, rising sea levels pose a great flooding risk to Floridians. Within the state’s Division of Library and Information Services were 63 central service outlets with 468 branches, 23 mobile outlets and about 2,000 librarians in 2013. Like California, Florida is home to some of the country’s largest libraries. The Miami-Dade Public Library system alone served 6.7 million visitors and had 3,294,232 printed materials, 30,002 electronic books, and 253,858 audio and video materials in 2012. 

Water damage in libraries is an issue that institutions must address quickly to salvage as many of the affected materials as possible and reduce the risk of mold growth. When libraries across the country and around the globe suffer flood damage, their staff members turn to Polygon for our temporary humidity control equipment, water-damaged-book restoration services, document drying solutions and business continuity services. Get in touch with a Polygon specialist today to learn more about our complementary Code Blue® program, which will help your library prepare for a disaster and provide priority services if the unthinkable happens. 

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