Students, faculty and community members gathered in solidarity to read together on the north lawn of Hale Library on Wednesday. Reverends Christian Watkins of ECM and Caela Simmons Wood of the First Congregational UCC hosted the event to support Hale and the community in the aftermath of the May 22 roof fire.
After Wood initially heard about the fire, she said she was upset about the news since she is an alumna.
“At first, when I didn’t realize how severe it was, I was like ‘Oh no, I hope everybody’s okay,’ and then I was relieved that nobody got hurt,” Wood said. “But then over the next several days as the extent of the damage became apparent, I just felt sad. I mean, I’m a K-State grad, so I spent many, many hours there. I love Hale.”
Watkins said she is still processing everything that has happened.
“I think a lot of it is that we’re still learning what it looks like, what the impact of the fire will be, so I wonder if I even know what my response is still,” Watkins said. “I heard that it had happened, but I didn’t know what the extent was, and then learned that it was major, but still don’t really know what that means. It’s kind of this unfurling process.”
Wood said she and Watkins hosted the event to help people be able to come together.
“People are sad about Hale and worried,” Wood said. “Hale is a community gathering place. We can’t use it right now, so I thought it would be nice to have people come together in community in some other way.”
Watkins said she also wanted to host this event because it offered a way for people to share their feelings about Hale and the fire.
“It’s been a challenge to hear about the loss that’s occurred in the building, and one of the great things about ministry is that we have an opportunity to find ways to mourn and celebrate and be wherever we’re at emotionally with each other,” Watkins said. “That was the goal of this time, to find some way to support the image and relationship that people have to the library and also think about some of the ways it’s influenced our life.”
Savannah Winkler, library help desk specialist, student libraries ambassador and senior in English, said she came to the event to support the library.
“I came here today because, out of my four years at K-State, I think Hale has been my favorite part of just being here,” Winkler said. “When I first came here, I kind of struggled to find my place at K-State. Then I got a job at Hale, and then I became an ambassador, and it was this great sense of community that made me feel like I belonged. I wanted to be here to see all the people that I missed since I haven’t been at the library, and to support the renovations and the issue at hand.”
Lori Goetsch, dean of Hale Library, said she appreciates all of the community’s encouragement and spirit.
“The value of reading and the spirit that comes with reading and the energy it can give you personally is just indescribable,” Goetsch said. “I think it’s wonderful that they decided to do this. We have this wonderful, iconic facility here, and we want to honor it and give it encouragement to improve and be better and to recover, and I think the spirit of the people here will help that happen.”
Many people at the event shared what they love most about Hale. Wood said she appreciates what the library stands for.
“It’s literally the center of campus, both in terms of geographics, but also, you know … it’s one of the main hubs of campus, in terms of places where people gather,” Wood said. “They’re places where people come together to learn from each other and from our ancestors and share knowledge, and the library is the very center of that.”
Watkins also emphasized the importance of learning at libraries, but said she is thinking of how the fire will impact the community.
Tiffany Bowers, library help desk specialist, chair of student library ambassadors and senior in anthropology, said the library has been her home.
“Any single time I think about Hale, I think of it as home,” Bowers said. “Not only did I feel like I belonged there, but I met people who also made me feel like I belonged here. … Hale’s been here for me as my home for all of these years, and I feel like going into my senior year, it’s time for me to be here for Hale. It will be tough, but it’s my home. And when your home catches fire, you rebuild it and you try to rebuild it better.”
As the library recovers, Watkins said she hopes the community will grow through these events.
“I hope that … the community has an opportunity to intentionally think about the role of learning and ways that we can continue to pursue learning and pursue supporting each other even when there are some unknown factors involved,” Watkins said. “It can be discouraging, but I hope that we find ways to grow together through this too.”
Students and the community can do a lot to help the library.
“You can help Hale library through things like this, through events, and by continuing to draw attention to the fact that the library is hurt right now,” Goetsch said. “A lot of people call the library the heart of the campus. If you think about it with that metaphor, the heart is broken right now, and needs people to support it. We need financial support, we need vocal support, we need the community to come out and say this is important to us. Those are the things people can do.”
To support the library’s recovery, community members can donate to the KSU Foundation’s “Help for Hale” fund.