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University Library Earthquake Damage

What Happened

The University Library at California State University, Northridge was damaged in the January 17, 1994 Northridge Earthquake, as were most other buildings on the campus. The epicenter of the 6.7 magnitude quake was about a mile from the California State University, Northridge campus.

The University Library has three structural parts: the original reinforced concrete core building built in the early 1970's and two wings that opened in 1991. The Library core suffered repairable structural damage in the Northridge Earthquake and reopened in August 1994. The east and west wings were built as steel frame structures to be more earthquake resistant. However, the earthquake instead gave engineers an education about the performance of steel frame buildings in quakes. Severe structural damage to the wings during the earthquake eventually led to demolition and rebuilding of the wings. Four-inch thick steel base plates cracked where the four-story high vertical steel structural columns came into the foundations of the wings. (Reconstruction was completed during the summer of 2000. The wings were reoccupied approximately six and one half years after the earthquake).

In addition to structural damage, there was damage to nonstructural elements and to the contents of the library. The library shelving, braced and reinforced before the quake, survived undamaged though almost all books fell onto the floor. The library's Automated Storage and Retrieval System was undamaged by the quake, but suffered water damage and mold during the reconstruction of the east wing above it.

Exterior damage to the back (north side) of University Library

  • Partial collapse of overhanging roof
  • Damage to columns
  • Metal and concrete debris from damage

Structural damage in Library wings

  • Cracked 4-inch thick steel base plate where 4-story high girder comes into the foundation, west wing of University Library

Microform Room

During the Northridge Earthquake, microform cabinets in the basement of the west wing of the University Library moved, fell over, and opened. Cabinets were extensively damaged; approximately half had to be replaced due to damage which rendered them unusable. The self-locking mechanism failed on many cabinets designed to allow only one drawer to open at a time, thereby permitting all the drawers to come open. Many cabinets with drawer latches also came open, but each latch had to fail separately. Most piggyback cabinets became airborne despite having been purchased to fit the cabinets that they were mounted on and having been bolted to both the wall and base cabinets. Before the quake, the aisles were more than wide enough for wheelchair access when cabinet drawers on both sides were open. However, after the cabinets moved during the quake and the drawers opened, there was little room left between the rows of cabinets for people.

Other damage to interior and contents

  • Books on floor (approximately 600,000 volumes had to be reshelved)
  • Damaged drywall (fourth floor Library core)
  • Collapsed table (Reference Room, first floor Library core)

All images are from the University Archives collection of the California State University, Northridge University Library and are used with permission. Photo credits: Susan Curzon, Robert Marshall, Mary McArthur, Lee Choo, Peter Prager, Michael Reagan and others.

Federal Depository Library Conference presentation

This page was developed by Mary M. Finley to support her presentation entitled Disaster Planning for Libraries: Lessons from California State University, Northridge at the Federal Depository Library Conference held April 12-15, 1999 in Bethesda, Maryland. Conference proceedings were published by the United States Goverment Printing Office and are also available online. All opinions are those of the author.