Auburn library works to ‘not to miss a beat’

July 17, 2017 GMT

Blackened windows and a more than 5-foot-tall chain-link fence surrounding the Eckhart Public Library were among the few exterior signs last week that fire recently damaged the main building, forcing the Auburn campus to temporarily close.

Although the main library : which housed the children’s department and adult fiction and nonfiction, among other materials : remains closed, the campus’s teen library and William H. Willennar Genealogy Center reopened July 10 with modified services.

Magazines, newspapers and David Baldacci novels now reside near genealogy research materials. Across the street, picture books, board books and a Fisher-Price table-and-chair set have turned the teens’ space into an impromptu youth services department.

“We’ve tried not to miss a beat,” Assistant Director Jenny Kobiela-Mondor said.

Since the July 2 fire, which was ruled arson three days later, the Eckhart Public Library has embraced the rallying cry “Eckhart strong,” now a common hashtag in its social media posts.

“I’m really, really proud of our staff and how they pulled together as a team,” Board of Trustees President Carolyn Foley said by phone last week.

A 24-year-old was arrested after investigators said a firecracker was sent down a library chute, sparking the fire.

A limited selection of materials from the main library is available to borrow because patrons have returned items that were checked-out when the fire occurred, Kobiela-Mondor said. Patrons may also borrow materials through Evergreen Indiana, a statewide library circulation system that counts the Adams Public Library System, Noble County Public Library and Kendallville Public Library as members.

“We’re carrying on,” Director Janelle Graber said during last week’s board meeting.

Trustees and library personnel spent much of the meeting discussing fire-related matters. Managers described their departments’ progress, and the board formally voted to declare the situation an emergency.

At times, the group found humor in the situation. The technology and maintenance manager’s comment about having “a decent amount of maintenance” elicited hearty laughs.

But the board vice president’s photographs of the library’s interior evoked a more serious and matter-of-fact tone as trustees saw images of ceiling damage and thick layers of soot. Kari Ackerman said she took hundreds of photos but was limited in what she could share.

“Every part of the building was somehow affected,” she said, referring to pictures of soot on books and lights. “It’s just everywhere.”

As of midweek, library officials did not have a damage estimate, Kobiela-Mondor said. They also didn’t know how much of their collection was affected or which irreplaceable items might have been destroyed, she said, noting access to the building was restricted once it was deemed a crime scene.

Artwork, however, was removed before the criminal investigation halted progress, library officials said.

Even after law enforcement concluded its investigation at the facility, library personnel had to wait for the insurance company to release the building. Library officials hope to get that permission today.

Police have said the fire was caused by a consumer firework that was ignited and slid into the book and video return chute near the library’s main entrance. The chute leads to the interior near the front desk.

Nykolas E. Elkin, who was living in an Auburn motel, was charged with felony arson and felony possession of a destructive device or explosive with intent.

He was being held at the DeKalb County Jail in lieu of $50,000 bail and is expected in court Aug. 21 for a pretrial conference. He is also being held without bail for charges incurred in 2012, according to the clerk of court’s office.

Library regulars Ron Ley and his daughter Lauren, 12, were struggling to make sense of the crime during a visit to the teen library last week.

“I’m just stunned,” Ley said.

Cloance Blasch, 16, said reading about the fire was like a nightmare. She and her 14-year-old sister, Tiegan, are friends with many of the librarians, who have watched them grow up, she said.

“It’s really confusing” why someone would target the library, Cloance said. “It’s for everyone.”

Since the fire, the library has received offers of help, and at least one child raised money through a lemonade stand.

Byler Lane Winery in Auburn will donate a percentage of its Saturday sales to the library. Eldon Byler, one of the owners, said the donation answers a question many people are asking: How can we help?

“When something like this happens in our community, the only thing we do is come together and prevail,” he said.

Most people go through life hoping they made a difference, Foley said. The community’s support, which has been emotional and humbling, has shown library officials the Eckhart Public Library has made that difference, she said.

Katie Mullins, Kendallville Public Library director, commended the Auburn library for continuing to provide services.

“I just think they’ve done a really good job at bouncing back,” she said.

Kendallville is among the Evergreen members that have reached out to help. It lent Eckhart materials for its summer reading program grand finale, Mullins said. She said an employee also was willing to deliver a cart of books to Auburn.

“We just want the patrons to have their materials,” she said.

Library officials last week didn’t have a timeline for the restoration. Chuck Knox of Knox Decorative Painting LLC is helping the library navigate the process and gave the board an overview of what’s to come.

First, he said, the contents will be removed, and library personnel must decide what to salvage and what to replace. That work likely will be done outside the building due to hazards inside, he said.

“It was hard on my throat in there,” he said.

An assessment of the building will happen next, he said, and restoration efforts will be respectful to both the historic side and the 1996 addition.

Library officials were happy to achieve the July 10 reopening milestone. And despite rainstorms, Graber said, people came. Residents can help the library by using it.

“Our real work is to serve the public,” she said.

Kobiela-Mondor agreed.

“We’re hoping to see our patrons come back,” she said.