The Night I was Saved by the Bell from The Attack of the Killer Books
Nov. 2, 2013
No, this isn’t a “B” horror flick. It did sound and feel like the building was being attacked by aliens, though.
Were we having an earthquake? Were the Russians bombing us? Did a runaway semi-truck ram the building? These thoughts were racing through my mind that evening in 1962 when I was working as a page at the Worthington Public Library – more specifically, the James Kilbourne Memorial Library at 752 High Street on the Village Green – the real “Old Worthington Library.”
I had been working there part time as a page since 1958 as a sophomore in Worthington High School (there was only one then). The job provided enough
for OSU’s quarterly tuition so I continued as a page through graduation.
The primary tasks of a page were re-shelving books and magazines, fetching books and other documents for patrons on demand, cleaning and
inspecting returned phonograph records, book repairs, and other duties as required. A page was summoned with a bell like those for calling bellboys in hotels.
February 1956 marked the completion of the large
addition on the north side of the library, begun one year earlier at a cost of $150,000. The old 1927 and 1931
Deshler library was converted to an expanded children’s department for $5,500. To quote a description of the new addition on page 3 of a summer 1956 issue of The Ohio Library Trustee, “A large mezzanine and full
basement provide an over-all shelving capacity of approximately 70,000 volumes”.
The mezzanine level housed travel, geography, history and biography, among other subjects. It was reached by
a stairway. There was a dumb waiter to lift books between levels but there was no human elevator since ADA was still in the future. The stacks were free-standing and were not secured to the floor or to each other.
You may be getting a notion of what’s about to happen. If you saw the 1999 movie, The Mummy, with
Brendon Fraser and Rachael Weisz, then you know what’s coming. If not, read on.
Let’s get back to that evening in 1962. Assistant Librarian, Edna Klotz, was in charge that night. I was shelving
books on the mezzanine. As I recall, there were no browsing patrons up there to interfere with my shelving. I was nearing completion of that task when the page bell rang. I went downstairs and passed the library’s
maintenance man, Mr. Williams, on his way up to replace some light buIbs.
When I reached the front desk, I was asked to retrieve some periodicals from the basement. I hadn’t been
down there for two minutes, it seemed, when there was a terrifying crashing, rumbling roar. The whole building
shook. I ran back upstairs. The mezzanine stacks had collapsed like dominoes, spilling their books into piles.
Mrs. Klotz was on the mezzanine shouting, “Is anyone in here!” as she ran frantically along the rows of fallen book stacks searching for possible victims.
Fortunately, I had been the only person on the mezzanine and no-one else had gone up. Had someone been
caught between those heavy book-laden stacks, very serious injuries or worse could have resulted from the
crushing force of all that weight. Everyone on staff was greatly relieved that emergency squad and fire rescue
units weren’t needed. My knees suddenly felt very weak and wobbly when I realized that I had been up there moments earlier.
Saved by the bell!
What about our janitor, Mr. Williams? He was unharmed. To replace the burned out bulb above the stairway,
he placed a board across the banisters over the stairwell so he could reach the light fixture. He momentarily lost
his balance and, to steady himself, he pushed against the back the single stack next to the stairwell. That stack
of shelves was empty so it tipped over easily, but it fell with enough force to cause the serial collapse of the
entire north range of stacks. Although regaining his balance, I imagine he must have been in shock at seeing what he had wrought.
Needless to say, the library was closed early that night. It was reopened for limited service for several days
until all of the books on the mezzanine could be removed, the stacks re-righted and the books re-shelved. All of
the stacks were then tethered together by steel bars at the top to prevent another occurrence of that near-disaster.
Oh, yes. For those of you who didn’t see The Mummy, Rachel Weisz’s character caused a similar domino-like
collapse of stacks while shelving books in the movie’s Cairo Museum of Antiquities. To get a feel of the
enormity of that night at the Worthington Public Library, watch the similar scenario unfold in the film. It was meant to be funny but, believe me, there was nothing even remotely humorous about it in real life.