Wyomingites are flooding the Meeteetse Library with donations after a sprinkler system damaged more than 5,000 books in February.

In a town where there are more books than people, the library has gotten more than 650 donated items without having to dip into its insurance money to renew the library collection.

“Tons and tons of books have come from all over the state,” said Valerie Doyle, librarian at the Meeteetse Library.

The little library in the rough-and-tough cowboy town lost its whole western collection and much of its mystery and adult fiction sections after a malfunctioning heating unit set off the sprinklers for about 10 minutes on Feb. 24. One thousand gallons of water gushed onto the books and the floor of the library, destroying nearly 20 percent of the library’s collection.

Libraries in Fremont, Laramie, Campbell and Natrona County weeded through their duplicates to donate books, but the biggest surprises have come from private donors.

Some of the books that were drenched by the sprinklers were thought to be irreplaceable. But book owners whose copies have been collecting dust have been coming out of the woodwork and making the difference in getting the library’s count back to normal. One woman donated some hard-to-find, hardcover editions of Zane Gray westerns, Doyle said.

Richard Gruber donated 105 Louis L’Amour western novels to the library after he read about the flood in the newspaper. Doyle never expected to get them back after the library’s copies were damaged by the water. When Gruber left New York City and moved to Wapiti 10 years ago, he joined a Louis L’Amour book club. The nostalgia of the books bit him, he said. “It’s like a 1950s TV western,” he said. “There’s a good guy, a bad guy and the good guy wins,”

He planned on reading them again someday.

“But they were just sitting in a box,” he said. “Books that aren’t read are useless.”

Gruber is still in the book club and plans on donating the rest of the L’Amour novels after he receives and reads the rest of the books in the collection.

In a town of 332 people that doesn’t have a movie theater, restaurant or record store, the Meeteetse library is a go-to hub for entertainment. The library was out of operation for two weeks after the sprinkler incident, so readers looking to grab a book or families wanting to rent a DVD for movie night had to make visits to the libraries in Cody or Powell, Doyle said.

The library is in the Meeteetse High School and it’s also a part of the Park County Library System. The school and the county will split the cost to replace the books. The school’s insurance company paid around $12,000 for repairing the interior of the building.

The school estimated that $36,000 worth of books were destroyed, but its insurance company will only shell out $18,000 to replace the books, said Jay Curtis, superintendent of Park County School District No. 6. Depreciation and other factors chewed away at the value of the books, Curtis said. Park County submitted a $100,000 claim with its insurance company to replace around 3,500 books, said Mike Demoney, first deputy in the Park County Clerk’s Office. The insurance company is appraising the books and will tell the county how much it will receive in the coming weeks, he said.

The worst is over for Doyle. After water flooded the library, she had to bear a burden heavy for any librarian: throwing books in a trash bin.

The library will continue to take donations with open arms, but it’s unlikely it will be able to recoup all its losses, she said.

“We won’t be getting enough money to replace every book and pay for processing and staff time,” Doyle said. “But there will be plenty for a good collection.”

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