Coping with the indefinite closure of Burton Barr Central Library weeks after it flooded during a storm goes well beyond securing the site’s half-million books.

The 280,000-square-foot building on the edge of downtown Phoenix employs hundreds of people. Kids gather there for free meals provided by a local food bank. A cafe on the bottom floor helps train people with autism in workplace skills.

All are affected after a July 15 monsoon storm caused extensive damage to the library. There’s an ongoing investigation into the exact sequence of events that day.

RELATED: No timeline for when library will reopen after storm damage

There’s still no timeline to reopen the library, though officials say they are eager to release an update after organizing the scope of repairs. For now, the city is trying to restore key community services.

Library staff found makeshift spaces for some programs and sent employees to work at other branches. Other functions, though, aren’t available or are inaccessible to people who can’t travel outside the central city.

Phoenix is working with nearby organizations to bring back basic library services to the area, said Lee Franklin, community-relations manager for Phoenix Public Library. She said the unprecedented incident raises awareness of how integral libraries are to the community — and how people expect them to always be there.

“It kind of rattles everyone a little bit,” Franklin said.

Library moves key programs to other locations

Stopping additional damage was the first priority when a fire-sprinkler pipe burst during the storm and flooded the library’s five floors, Franklin said. Now, some of the library’s resources are going to the system’s 16 other locations.

That includes packing up and sending off some of Burton Barr’s most popular books for customers to check out at the other branches. Culture passes, an amenity that provides free admission to museums and other institutions, will be redistributed to other locations, according to library staff.

Kids and coding programs continue at other locations. An entrepreneurship workshop series hosted at Burton Barr is operating about 17 miles away at Juniper Library on Union Hills Drive.

And College Depot moved into a community center in south Phoenix. The program serves students and families pursuing higher education. About 100 teens and adults visited last week, Lee said.

The timing of the damage so close to college-application deadline season was a particular concern for College Depot staff, said Abigail Martinez, college-access assistant.

Martinez said she initially wondered if students would find their appointment location, but that the new home is working well. The team isn’t fixating on when they can move back to Burton Barr, she said.

“We try not to worry about that,” Martinez said. “We get really busy this time of year.”

Some of Burton Barr’s other uses are being transferred within the area.

Voters in the city election on Aug. 29 can use the Arizona Jewish Historical Society next door on Culver Street, said Ben Lane, deputy city clerk. Nearly 550 people cast ballots at Burton Barr during the August 2015 election, according to the city.

And a church in the area is standing in as a hydration station that provides water to vulnerable people who use Burton Barr for summer-heat relief, said Tamra Ingersoll, spokeswoman for the Human Services Department. 

But there’s no replacement for Burton Barr’s amenities, according to some regular users. Sabrina Reed, 35, said the library’s closure is like losing a part of herself. 

Reed started going to Burton Barr as a teenager and now uses its reference material frequently to research for her art as well as set-design and prop-design work. The library’s fifth floor is unmatched in the Valley, she said. 

“It’s almost church-like,” Reed said. “You go in there and it’s just so beautiful.”

Meals for kids disrupted by closure

Some programs that depend on Phoenix’s flagship library are in limbo during the closure. 

Beneficial Beans Café, a coffee shop opened in March by the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center, is in a “holding pattern” after the flooding, said Karen Scott, marketing and communications manager. 

The organization hires people to serve coffee and food while providing internships to adults with autism. The program gives participants hands-on training and work history, Scott said. 

The handful of employees transferred to the cafe’s Scottsdale location, but the Burton Barr closure is a loss for the organization, Scott said.

“We’re a non-profit organization, so we rely on that revenue,” she said. 

A program by St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance to offer free, hot meals to children up to age 18 at Burton Barr saw a big increase in participation over last year, said Jerry Brown, director of public relations. It was recently serving 250 meals a week, he said.

For now, people are encouraged to use one of more than 100 other “Kids Cafe” locations, Brown said, though proximity is key. 

“For some people who don’t have transportation, the closest is the most important,” Brown said. 

Hundreds of employees sent to other libraries

As Burton Barr regulars boost attendance at other libraries, its employees are changing sites and schedules.

More than 200 employees are regularly assigned to Burton Barr, Franklin said. All are still working, though their schedules could be different. 

Part-time employees also may have lost extra hours previously added to their schedule, Franklin said. Staff are guaranteed only the hours they were hired to work.

Online forums have highlighted frustrations from the instability and featured dispatches from employees enjoying their temporary work spaces.

As the closure continues, the system is working to fine-tune schedules for employees disrupted by new locations or hours, Franklin said.

Overall, the city has handled the transition well, said Frank Piccioli, president of AFSCME Local 2960, which represents some library workers including security staff and circulation assistants.

“I was kind of prepared for complaints but have not received any,” he said.

Burton Barr staff members miss each other, though it’s not unusual for employees to try different locations during their library careers, said Laura Castillo, a librarian who’s the manager of Children’s Place. She said it’s comforting to see library regulars visit new locations and offer their support. 

“They always say, ‘How are you doing?’ when normally we’re the ones concerned,” Castillo said.

But not everyone is following to other locations. For visitors like Cameron Enriquez, it’s proximity that draws them to Burton Barr. The 31-year-old was going several times a week seeking a quiet place to study for an upcoming certification exam.

Enriquez has turned to coffee shops during the closure, but said he lost a place where he could buckle down and focus.

“It definitely hurts,” he said.


Burton Barr library damage: How did it happen?

Phoenix library flood’s damage tally: 6,000 books

Burton Barr Central Library badly damaged in storm; closed for repairs

  • Much of Burton Barr's collection spared from damage

    Much of Burton Barr’s collection spared from damage

  • Cleaning up Burton Barr Library after storm

    Cleaning up Burton Barr Library after storm

  • Burton Barr Library in Phoenix recovering after monsoon damage

    Burton Barr Library in Phoenix recovering after monsoon damage

  • Phoenix fire captain explains flooding at Burton Barr Library

    Phoenix fire captain explains flooding at Burton Barr Library

  • The Burton Barr Central Library damaged from Saturday's storm

    The Burton Barr Central Library damaged from Saturday’s storm

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