FINDLAY - Stepping inside the cozy, air-conditioned bookmobile stationed in the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library's parking lot, Kim Stennett carries a stack of books and movies to the counter and sheepishly confesses, "These were due back at the time of the flood."
Library employee Marilyn Howard gives her a smile and reassures her she won't be charged any late fees.
"We're being very forgiving," Ms. Howard says.
More than a month after 6 1/2 feet of water filled the basement of the downtown library, officials are asking patrons to be very forgiving too.
The library remains closed and, while Director Sybil Galer isn't willing to predict when it might reopen, it's clear it could be several more months. The library's board of trustees isn't interested in putting things back the way they were.
"When we rebuild this, we will rebuild this as flood-proof as humanly possible," Ms. Galer said during a walk around the dry lower level.
No carpet or tile. No drywall. No wooden cabinetry. No offices or mechanical systems in the basement.
"We're going to repurpose this lower level and move offices and critical systems upstairs," she explained.
Trustees are working on a plan to construct a two-story industrial building at the rear of the 45,000-square-foot library that will house all of the mechanical systems that "drowned" Aug. 22 when the Blanchard River overspilled its banks in what has been declared the worst flooding since 1913.
Administrative offices are to be moved to a ground-level meeting room, while the second floor, which holds the library's collection of books and audiovisual materials, will remain much as it is. Because of their lofty position on the top floor, no library materials were damaged in the flood.
"The Toledo library called us right away and said, 'Do you need books?' We appreciated it, but we don't need books," said Ed Railing, president of the library board. "We're just in a state of flux. We have to go day by day."
Ms. Galer said she's referred offers of help from other libraries to the Putnam County District Library in Ottawa, which also is closed because of flood damage. There, Director Linda Ewing said the library lost all the books on its bottom shelves, which she figures was about one-sixth of its collection.
Unlike Hancock County, which has just one branch in Arlington, Putnam County has branches in seven nearby communities that are filling the void while the main library in Ottawa is closed.
"We will renovate the old location, but nothing has been finalized at all," Ms. Ewing said.
In Findlay, Ms. Galer said it can be difficult to explain to the public why the library can't re-open now that the building is dry and none of the books was damaged, but she tries.
"We don't have phones. You can't run a library without phones," she said. "We don't have computers. We don't have fire alarms."
The library also doesn't have the requisite permits to operate. Next to the big orange "closed" sign on the front door is another telling patrons what must pass permit inspection before the library can open: flooring, walls, plumbing, electric, heat and air conditioning, elevator, fire alarm, phone system, and sprinklers. So far, none has.
Patrons are being encouraged to reserve materials online and then pick them up at either the bookmobile, which is out in the community full-time, or at the Arlington branch 15 miles from Findlay. Children's story hour is being held at a bookstore.
"I'll be out in public and people walk up to me all the time and ask, 'When is the library going to open?'•" Ms. Howard said.
"And what is the correct answer?" her boss, Ms. Galer, asks.
"We're not sure, but as soon as it can safely be opened for the public," Ms. Howard responds.
The bookmobile, meanwhile, is doing a brisk business.
Sammy Mellott of rural Findlay stopped by Friday afternoon to pick up some movies for the weekend - something he used to do about once a week at the library.
Findlay resident Marilyn Dunn reserved a Mary Higgins Clark book online then picked it up at the bookmobile where she returned three books. She said she misses her visits to the library, though.
"It's just a part of your life - at least it's part of my life - when you're an avid reader," she said.
Ms. Galer said the situation is frustrating, but she supports the board's decision to reconfigure the library so that another flood will not put it out of business for an extended period in the future.
"It has been very stressful for all of us knowing we are not there to serve them our normal way," she said. "We're making do with what we have, and we're hoping the next portions of this process will go as quickly as possible."
She said many area residents rely on the library for Internet access and likely need to get online to access information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other organizations that provide assistance to flood victims.
"I think the thing that's been the hardest is knowing what an asset we could be to the rest of the community as it deals with all these life issues and yet we're closed," she said.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at firstname.lastname@example.org