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Alumni Profile

A flood of support

Tamara Glise

Tamara Glise, interim library director for Iowa's Cedar Rapids Public Library, coordinated the library's efforts when Cedar River floodwaters reached the city.

In June 2008, near the swelling shores of Iowa’s Cedar River, some staff at the Cedar Rapids Public Library put down the sand bags and began grabbing books. Then interim library director Tamara Glise, MA ’90, employees and their families started moving precious library material from the main floor of the 24-year-old building to the upper levels and top shelves as floodwaters reached the city.

Expected to crest at 24 feet, the river ultimately topped out at 31 feet on Friday the 13th, flooding the entire downtown area.

“We received word that they thought the water would reach us,” Glise says. “So we quickly assembled teams to try to save what we could and move it upstairs. We had about five and a half hours before we were evacuated.”

As the city began to recover weeks later, Glise learned the 84,000 square-foot facility was damaged by septic water, so she operated it out of a 2,600-square-foot branch at the nearby Westdale Mall. Despite the last-minute effort, 160,000 books and materials were lost. About 32,000 items were checked out to patrons in the area at the time of the floods.

“For a lot of city departments, FEMA will pay for temporary housing when they’ve been displaced by a disaster,” Glise says. “But libraries are not considered a fundamental support, so we had to see what we could afford out of our operating budget.”

Thanks to mall administrators who loaned the library free additional space, volunteers have remodeled a stretch of shops for a temporary home. Known as the Bridge, the new library location symbolically opened on another Friday the 13th in February 2009.

Library Journal, one of the oldest and most respected publications covering the library field, recognized the Cedar Rapids Public Library by presenting its 2008 Librarian of the Year Award to Glise’s entire management team.

 “I had only been interim director here for three or four weeks before the flood hit, so I had to be confident that I had the appropriate background to do this,” Glise says. “The library program at Mizzou was very good at preparing me to take on these challenges.”