Pennsylvania Public Libraries and the Great Flood of 1936: Dark Clouds and Silver Linings

Bernadette A. Lear


The Great Flood of 1936 damaged thousands of buildings, ruined millions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure and personal property, and left thousands of citizens homeless in Pennsylvania. Among affected institutions were 14 public libraries that lost books and records and/or sustained structural damage during the flood. This article recounts the experiences of the four libraries with the largest claims: the Cambria Library (Johnstown), the Annie Halenbake Ross Library (Lock Haven), Milton Public Library, and the James V. Brown Library (Williamsport). Lessons learned, unexpected opportunities to reshape collections and services, and advancement of professional knowledge about conservation of water-soaked materials are discussed. In addition, the article provides details about the Pennsylvania Library Association’s successful pursuit of state rehabilitation funds for affected libraries. Although the Great Flood of 1936 was an experience that no one would wish to repeat, it represents some silver linings in terms of public library history.

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Copyright (c) 2014 Bernadette A. Lear

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