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Hale Library Blog

Does this rusty stapler spark joy?

It isn’t often you get to make a fresh start, but this week my fellow K-State Libraries employees and I cast off the old in a Marie Kondo ritual of sorts.

After the fire, everything salvageable in our sodden and soot-stained offices was boxed up and moved into storage. We were all assigned new offices in one of ten different buildings across campus and—each according to our unique circumstances and job changes—began navigating a post-fire existence.

We all reacted and adapted in our own ways.

The same held true this week as we took turns visiting a storage facility near the Manhattan Regional Airport to sift through the boxes from our Hale Library offices that have been packed away for almost a year.

At left, Kay Rieder, a restoration specialist with Belfor Property Restoration, meets with K-State Libraries employees Robin Brown, Kendra Spahr, Jesica Sellers and Sara Kearns in the staging area where they opened their boxes. April 29, 2019. 

Staff members had to decide which work-related possessions they wanted to have cleaned and which items weren’t worth saving.

Some employees found the process liberating. “Man, I should have gotten rid of that paper a long time ago,” academic services librarian Sara K. Kearns said, after offloading arm loads of files destined for the shredder.

Others—especially those who have worked in Hale Library for decades—felt a renewed sense of loss.

Most librarians I spoke with said that they had already retrieved the possessions that were most important to them when we were allowed in the building for the first time on May 30, 2018.

Just a week after the fire, we signed in with security, donned hardhats and solemnly filed through the dark, hot library carrying our flashlights. While we navigated puddles, sagging ceiling tiles and random debris, I was in disbelief at the amount of damage we found around every corner.

A group of twelve people dons orange emergency vests, hard hats and respirators.
K-State Libraries faculty and staff members prepare to enter Hale Library to retrieve personal belongings. May 30, 2018. 

In my third floor office cubicle, I grabbed framed photos, artwork, and a two-drawer wooden card catalog that sat on my desk. At the last minute, I stacked a potted plant on top of my armload.

Those few belongings went home with me. The plant—now thriving—sits on my refrigerator, where it gets a lot more sun than it ever did in 313 Hale Library.

A office cubicle is strewn with binders, cords, technology, and office supplies; plastic sheeting meant to protect the space from water damage sits wadded in a puddle on the floor.
Office cubicles in the information technology area on second floor were especially hard-hit with water damage. June 11, 2018.

Some offices were in much worse condition than mine, and those library employees salvaged very little.

“It was pretty surreal visiting the office for the first time after the fire,” librarian Melia Fritch said. “The most disturbing thing was going into to our office and feeling like FEMA had been through since there were these orange spray-painted words like ‘demo’ all over the walls. That was weird.”

Memories of that first post-fire visit came into focus this week as I watched my coworkers open their boxes.

Kearns recovered dozens of books that will be treated in the ozone chamber to eliminate the smell of smoke before she reclaims them. After making quick work of her paper files, she opened several long, flat packages wrapped in cardboard.

Two of them turned out to be prints she bought in Japan while visiting her brother.

A woman wearing a blue jacket holds a long framed red, black and white print.
Kearns smiles as she shows us art she hadn’t expected to recover. April 29, 2019.

“These were on the wall that water absolutely poured down when it drained from third floor to our offices on the second floor,” she said. “I can’t believe they aren’t covered in mold. They’re grimy and they need to be cleaned, but they’re totally fine.”

Senior graphic designer Tara Marintzer approached the process wondering if she’d have similar surprises. “It’s a mystery. I have no idea what I’ll find or whether there’s anything even worth saving.”

A women in a blue jacket stands at left and a women in a black hoodie kneels at right as they
Kearns and Kendra Spahr sift through boxes of paperwork. “There’s something in here called a ‘facsimile,'” Spahr joked. April 29, 2018. 

“After the fire, my new plan was to be more digital,” Marintzer added. “No more paper files.”

In all, nearly 1,000 boxes of office contents were packed out of Hale Library. The recovery crews that boxed up employee belongings didn’t always know what belonged to whom, so there has been some confusion along the way.

Kearns opened up one box marked with her name and said, “I have no idea who anyone is in these photos. This isn’t mine.”

A coworker glanced over and recognized that the images were of Kristin Hersh, lead singer of Throwing Muses, so then we knew that the box must belong to librarian Thomas Bell, who writes about the history of rock and roll. Gradually, the boxes that remain will make their way back to their rightful owners.

For employees who had a lot to sort through, decision fatigue set in.

At left, a man in a brown hoodie reaches into a cardboard box sitting on a table in front of him. At right, a woman in a purple polo shirt holds a clipboard.
Jason Bengtson, head of information technology services, sorts through a box while Sellers waits to check it off of the inventory list. May 1, 2019. 

“I had 80 boxes to open,” Kathryn Talbot, preservation coordinator, said. “By the end, I was throwing things out a lot faster.”

As I write this, I haven’t had my turn yet to open the boxes. I don’t know what I’ll find, but I can’t think of anything that I miss.

It’s a good reminder of the most important things about the fire, though: There were no lives lost. There weren’t any injuries. Everyone came out safe.

Most things can be replaced, or—in the case of Hale Library’s interior—rebuilt so they’re even better than they were before.

When it’s time for the K-State Libraries employees to move back into our offices a few years from now, we’ll be traveling a little bit lighter. A lot of us will be working more digitally, less physically.

And, in a place of honor, my future Hale Library space will feature a healthy spider plant survivor.

Two women carrying boxes walk on a concrete driveway in front of a red brick building.
Darchelle Martin and Sarah McGreer Hoyt walk out of the storage facility each carrying a single box of things they wanted to keep. May 1, 2019. 

Postscript: I went through my boxes a few days after I initially wrote this post. It felt good to offload “stuff” and think instead about the ways in which  working at K-State Libraries still sparks joy.

2 thoughts on “Does this rusty stapler spark joy?
  1. Reading this just made me so emotional.
    Hang in there all of you.
    I miss walking into Hale. Looking forward to the time of re-entry soon.

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