JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–The Ryan Center for Biblical Studies at Union University lost approximately 10 percent of its holdings when the EF-4 tornado swept through the Jackson, Tenn., campus Feb. 5.
The center is located on the top floor of Jennings Hall, which had half its roof ripped off in the tornado. Most of the damage was caused by water, mildew or mold.
The Geneva Bible, the oldest book in the library’s possession at around 400 years old, was untouched since it is kept in a glass case along with three other rare books.
“I was really surprised that (the damage) wasn’t any worse than it was,” said Ray Van Neste, director of the Ryan Center and associate professor of Christian studies. “When I saw the stuff laying on where the Geneva Bible was, I was excited that it was covered by a ceiling tile and all was not damaged.”
Van Neste and students boxed the books and moved the entire library to its temporary home at Cornerstone Community Church. The future location of the Ryan Center is uncertain, but Van Neste and others are continuing work to prevent further water damage to the other books.
“What we have to do now is get (the books) out (of the boxes) and let them air,” Van Neste said. “That’s the reason we do not really know what the exact percentage is as far as ruining [the materials] because the moisture could continue to cause trouble.
“The part of the roof that was pulled off of Jennings was right above the Ryan Center and that’s where the pipe burst. [The center] was flooded; the carpet was totally wet with standing water in several places. The books, though, are on shelves. In some places the shelves were shielded; in other places the shelf itself was water-logged and so that (moisture) came out into the books. Some books were just a loss, some looked like they were fine.”
Three other rare books were kept safe in the case alongside the Geneva Bible. An English Hexapla, a Basal New Testament and a copy of the Wycliffe New Testament are all undamaged. The library also contains a page from a Luther Bible which received water damage, but is currently being restored.
“We’re really grateful. Just a lot of people came out to help [move items from the Ryan Center],” Van Neste said. “Some students I know and have in class, but many I didn’t know at all. But these students came and helped and were a great blessing to us.”
Andrea Turner is a senior English major who is editor in chief of Cardinal & Cream, Union’s student newspaper.
Watch a video about Union’s Ryan Center: