Sumas Library Manager Paul Fullner and his wife rode into the Sumas Library on kayaks in November 2021, looking to assess the damage from the 25 inches of water that had entered following the flooding of the Nooksack and Sumas rivers.
On Feb 15, nearly 15 months later, he stood in a newly remodeled and upgraded community library and cut the ceremonial ribbon, signifying its reopening after the devastating event.
“It’s something like a return to normalcy,” Fullner said. “A lot of families have fond memories of taking their kids to the library, and between COVID-19 and the flood, there are a bunch of new families that have not had that experience.”
Throughout the closure, staff tried their best to keep services available. While the building wasn’t open, a weekly visit from the Whatcom County Library System’s Bookmobile allowed Sumas residents to check out and return books.
“It wasn’t our full services but we still had holds pick-up and those weekly bookmobile visits; that was important to us,” Fullner said.
Lee Anne Williams, of Sumas, described herself and her children, Raycie and Zayn, as “ferocious readers.” She homeschools her children and said not having a local library was a big loss.
“We were here the very last day that it was open and we came to the bookmobile every Friday that it was here,” she said.
During the past 15 months, she and her children had to drive to Everson or Lynden to access a library, but with the reopening of the Sumas location, they are back within walking distance of books.
During the rebuilding period, Fullner said the staff has worked not to just replace what was lost, but to upgrade things as well.
While just over half of the library materials were saved from flood waters, all the wood furniture, including the front desks, chairs and tables, had to be replaced.
New editions, like Library Express, show the librarians are looking to continue rebuilding their services and surpassing what was lost in the flood.
Library Express, housed in the same building, is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week. Using a library card to enter, people can pick up holds and drop off books, which Fullner said does not require an on-site librarian. It’s an important addition as the Sumas Library is only open three days a week due to staffing shortages.
Fullner noted that many people in Sumas and surrounding areas continue to struggle with the effects of the flood. Having the library reopened gives the community another important resource.
“It’s easy for other folks in the country to think that this event is over and done,” he said. “It’s still a very hurting community and we want to help people where they are at now.”
With computer access, free Wi-Fi and access to books, the reopening assists people who are still recovering from destruction.
Jennifer Rick, development director for the Whatcom County Library Foundation, said donations played a huge role in getting the library back on track. The foundation is the fundraising branch of the library system and it was able to raise $35,000 in community donations that went directly to refurbishing the library.
“People in the community can see their dollars going to work right away. To have that full-circle moment is critical,” she said.
Even with money collected from insurance and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, there was still a gap in funding to completely restore the library.
Rick said donations came in from Sumas residents who were flood victims, from a library in central Washington that had been through a similar destructive event and donors from inside and outside the state.
“Every gift matters, and when we say the foundation is here for unexpected needs, this is what we are talking about,” she said.