Sprinkler malfunctions at library, soaking books; Water gushes half-hour, destroying 1,100 volumes; reopening planned today


Danielle Steel and Scott Turow are all wet.

So are more than a thousand books by other novelists after a fire sprinkler malfunctioned in the Towson library yesterday minutes before the library opened, drenching the fiction shelves.

"It just went off, a huge rush of water," said librarian Joe Thompson, who was standing near the fiction section putting books onto shelves when the sprinkler erupted. "I just stared for the first couple seconds."

Thompson and other workers sprang into action, ripping books from the shelves and grabbing wastebaskets to bail the mounting pools of water.

Librarian Rose Frase held a plastic trash bag around the gushing sprinkler, trying to direct its flow away from the shelves and getting drenched in the process.

"Fortunately, I had some sweat pants in the car for winter weather," she said as she cleared books from the shelves.

Water poured out of the sprinkler for nearly a half-hour until firefighters and maintenance crews could shut it off.

"It was like Niagara Falls," said James H. Fish, the county library director, who took off his shoes and socks and rolled up his pants legs as he walked through the puddles.

The mishap left a pool of water 2 inches deep and ruined many works of fiction by authors whose last names start with S and T.

"Mark Twain is pretty well wiped out," said library spokesman Bob Hughes.

The reason for the malfunction and the extent of the loss were not known yesterday. Staff members said the damage would be at least several thousand dollars.

All of the paperbacks on the exposed shelves had to be thrown away, said Lynn Wheeler, assistant county library director, who added, "Some are going to be hard to replace because they were out of print."

In addition to destroying about 1,100 books, the water damaged shelves, carpets and the floor.

Wheeler said the Towson library will borrow books from other branches and order new copies to replace the ruined books.

The library, which did not open yesterday, will open today, although some of the adult fiction will not be available.

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