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A story of librarian heroism during a Christchurch earthquake won the Credo Reference Amazing Stories competition at last week’s LIANZA conference in Palmerston North.
The story, Where are all the Atlases?, describes how a library assistant held up a heavy piece of metal to clear an exit for students during the February 2011 earthquake.
The author, Brian McElwaine, won two iPads for CPIT, Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, where he works as Liaison Librarian. He also received $50 prize money.
Bridget Hayes, librarian at St Martin’s School in Christchurch was awarded a $50 runner-up prize for a story from her time at Cheshire Public Library in England.
Judges Heather Wiegand and Anne Kail from Credo Reference said Bridget’s tale of confusion between love-making and glove-making had them all chuckling.
Where are All the Atlases?
Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology
The following tale, describing a small tale of personal heroism, happened during the Christchurch earthquake of February ’11. My flights to New Zealand remained, at this stage, the merest twinkle in some pilot’s eye. It was related to me by our art curator, who also works as a library assistant with us.
Our library occupies a large part of the Rakaia Centre, one of the central buildings to our campus, made of a long, airy atrium, with entrances to various facilities like our own leading away. The library itself fronts onto the atrium with numerous glass panels, and the roof is hung with strip lighting, ventilation pipes and decorative metal panels. We are well furnished with books throughout, and have numerous computer desks dotted about the place. I mention these details to illustrate that, when this magnitude 6.3 quake hit, books were flying all over the place, we lost power and lighting, the strip lighting was swinging around overhead like crazy and people were panicking.
Now, I mentioned at the beginning of the story that I heard this second hand, and I think that what makes it worthy of note, is that our art curator heard this report from several of our students, sometime after the event.
So amid all the shaking and the darkness and screaming and craziness, one of our library assistants realised that the front entrance had been blocked by a fallen length of metal from overhead. An ex-military man, he realised that our students would have difficulty evacuating while the exit was blocked, so he stood by the shaking glass doors and glass walls near the entrance, holding this piece of debris up so that students could make their way outside to safety.
This tale is remarkable partly because it was a courageous deed under trying circumstances, to be sure, and although there were other evacuation routes, the front entrance is certainly where the majority of students fled to. It is most noteworthy, perhaps, because to the students who were present that day, this man is described like Atlas of Greek mythology- patiently supporting the heavens- while they escaped under his arms and through the door
While everyone who was in Christchurch at the time of this earthquake has some story to tell of where they were and what happened around them, to tens or hundreds of our students, their enduring memory is of a larger-than-life librarian holding up the roof so that they could make their way to safety.
St Martins School, Christchurch
A dear sweet lady asked at the ref desk for a book about love making, seemed a little odd but not wanting to judge headed over the the books and started to show her where she needed to look. She looked a little confused, giggled and said that's very kind of you but I actually wanted a book about glove making!! Not sure who was more red faced!