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Pentagon Library Back Home After Difficult Journey

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 7, 2003 – The recent open house celebration was quiet, just like most activities that occur in such a facility.

However, the Pentagon Library's official return "home" from nearby temporary quarters was still a joyful occasion to many, especially the staff.

In April, the library staff welcomed users to its new facility inside the Butler Building, a freestanding structure on the Pentagon's south side. Library director Mena Whitmore and her staff were glad to be back on Pentagon grounds, the end of a difficult journey to get back home.

For more than a year, the fourth floor of the Taylor Building in nearby Crystal City was home for the library, its collection relocated there after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.

"Even though we were close because of the shuttle service, it was still so far away. We could not reach out practically or physically to our users," she said. "Even with technology such as telephones, e-mail and fax, it's not the same as being face to face."

The Boeing 757 plane that penetrated the Pentagon's three outer rings blew open the doors to the library that was housed in between the two innermost rings.

"Damage was pushed up to our back wall. If it had come one ring further, it would have got us," Linda McGuire, a reference librarian, said.

Library staff felt the Pentagon vibrate from the plane's impact, but thought the noise was part of renovation work at the Pentagon during that time.

"We would hear banging all the time, but this was louder than normal," McGuire explained.

"Plus, we knew that people were moving into that area of the building, so we thought it was them," Barbara Risser, chief reference librarian, added.

The plane's impact caused massive damage to the building, fire burned for days and thousands of gallons of water used to put out the fire eventually found its way to the library. Mold and mildew formed on the library walls and on the pages of hundreds of books and documents.

The library had to be cordoned off for over a month. The staff was not allowed back into the area and sent to work at other area DoD libraries.

"We didn't know what a close family we had until that day," Angela Henson, military documents specialist, said. "Being separated instead of being together as a group was the sad part," Risser added.

The staff returned to find thousands of books and documents damaged from the water, dust, mold and mildew. "We lost most of our official records for acquisitions, catalog statistics, personnel files and personal belongings," she said. "The mold had taken over everything."

BMS Catastrophe, a company that handles recovery and restoration of documents, was called in to repair the library collection. "The contractors had to clean the dust volume by volume, page by page," Risser said of the recovery effort.

The process took a month to complete before the library collection was moved to Crystal City. The September attack also left the library without a suitable place to operate.

Because so many displaced personnel needed new work space, and others, such as attack investigators, needed space as well, there was no place for the library's collection of more than 200,000 books. Whitmore said the decision on who got what space came down to: Which is more important, books or people? "It was people," she recalled.

During the move to the Taylor Building, Whitmore said the library's collection, totaling some 740 carts of books and documents, was left with no sense of order. Finding materials was difficult, if not impossible, she said.

"The fourth floor was completely covered in books. It was hard to find anything. We had one week to make the move, and the contractors put the books wherever they could. It was very traumatic," she said.

The library relocation also proved to be a burden for the people who use the facility each week. Whitmore said most library customers were reluctant to travel to Crystal City. Others didn't even know where the library had moved to; most just stayed away.

To maintain a presence at the Pentagon, staff members set up an information table in the building's concourse shopping mall to tell users where the library had moved.

They also brought over racks of free books and magazines to give away. "We'd get one, two, maybe three visitors each week," she said. "We told ourselves, 'We can't live like this, isolated from our users,'" she explained.

But Whitmore had another problem: She had no place to leave the bookrack overnight. "We couldn't carry the leftover books home each night because they were so heavy, so I began asking around," she said. "I went office to office asking anyone if I could leave my books with them overnight."

The library finally got some good fortune. Whitmore found a concession area next to a greeting card shop that was empty. She got permission to use the space to set up and store her rack of free books there on a temporary basis. The staff brought in the most-used, most-requested journals, newspapers and books. Then came more reference material, workstations and computers for the patrons.

This turned the facility into the Pentagon Library Reference Center, a small satellite library in the Pentagon shopping area where visitors could search the Internet, read newspapers and check out books and materials. "This was like heaven for us to be able to come back," Whitmore said, "even though it was only for a very small portion of our collection."

To get material to the Butler Building, Whitmore said her staff packed the books in suitcases and at first shuttled them via the two subway stops between Crystal City and the Pentagon. Then the library staff gained use of a motor-pool vehicle and set up a regular shuttle service between the two locations.

Whitmore pointed out that this arrangement worked well and continued until the Butler Building became available. "Now that we are back among our patrons, they can come in and browse and use our collection just like they did before Sept. 11, 2001," she said.

Army Brig. Gen. Lewis Roach, executive director for the Services and Operations Agency that oversees the library, said he praised the staff for its resiliency to "persevere through such operational challenges." He noted that the Butler Building is an interim facility.

In three years, plans are to move the library into a new Pentagon multi-use facility under construction. "We are in the planning stage with the aim to build the state-of-the-art library, and fortunately this will be the last location," Whitmore said.

For now, the move to the Butler Building has the library staff happy to be back among friends. "We really missed the Pentagon," Sheila Whorton, a program and support specialist at the library, said. "It was stressful, but it worked and we're glad to be back."

To learn more about the Pentagon Library, visit http://www.hqda.army.mil/library/.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageLinda McGuire, a reference technician, assists patrons at the Pentagon Library Reference Center. The center is a satellite branch set up after damage to the Pentagon from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack displaced the main library collection from the building. The center is located in the concourse shopping mall in the Pentagon.   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAt the Pentagon Library Reference Center, military and civilian personnel can browse and check out a variety of books, magazines and other materials. The center also offers Internet access and has microfiche for viewing records.   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMena Whitmore, Pentagon Library director, said she and her staff are glad to be back on Pentagon grounds after more than a year away. The library is now housed in the Butler Building, adjacent to the Pentagon.   
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