Today, a month ago, the Jagger Library, the home of UCT Libraries Special Collections, was gutted by fire. A renowned and well-loved library amongst UCT alumni, academics and scholars, and the training ground for many professional librarians, the shock waves of its destruction by a freak of nature reverberated across the world. From a former active contact library abuzz with students to a more scholarly Reading Room since 2012, this disaster has catapulted it into the annals of library history.
This last month bore witness to the massive undertaking to salvage materials impacted by water and evacuate the entire holdings located in its basements. This was made possible by an army of over 2000 volunteers who worked to tight schedules on a daily basis, overseen by UCT Libraries staff and professional conservators who determined the appropriate intervention at the point of triage resulting in approx. 10 000 wet items in cold storage, more than 12 000 crates, spread over 10 locations, that hold materials that are being closely monitored to avoid the onset of mould, and 187 map cabinets to be removed to off-site premises. By working closely with Libraries staff and a small core of volunteers, there was an ongoing transfer of preservation skills, which will enable staff to continue with ongoing preventive preservation of salvaged material.
Despite the lack of experience in the management of a disaster of this scale, the dearth of conservation skills and limited facilities for post-disaster conservation, this salvage operation can only described as a success. This was affirmed during the recent visit of the UNESCO Regional Director, Prof Hubert Gijzen on 11 May. This success was made possible by the goodwill, support, assistance, time and efforts of individuals who shared their expertise and resources voluntarily, academic departments and centres who availed their spaces for storage (English, History, Centre for African Studies, the Kaplan Centre, Centre for Curating the Archive) and external entities such as the Iziko Museum for availing their cold storage and freeze drying facilities.
Recovery Phase commences
As we wrap up this salvage phase, and enter the recovery phase, activities have already commenced in the key focus areas which include:
initiating and facilitating collaborations with leading national and international universities for continued research support,
conservation and preservation capacity building,
business continuity (virtual library services, responses to Special Collections enquiries, reconstituting SC as a library and digitization),
collection assessment and rebuilding,
and re-conceptualising and re-imagining the entire network of UCT Libraries including the Jagger Library.
The rehabilitation of different format materials has commenced in consultation with local and international experts (including Library of Congress and Sony) as we are committed to finding the best solutions for our recovery.
In acknowledging all who were involved in this salvage phase, I wish to acknowledge:
Nikki Crowster (Salvage Project Lead)
Reggie Raju (business continuity)
the entire Special Collections team led by Mandy Noble and Michal Singer
The Library Management Team
Blythe Edwins, Steve Swigelaar and the entire Libraries staff who were directly or indirectly involved with the salvage
Dr Dale Peters
Isabelle McGinn and the University of Pretoria team
The conservators reference group
While I may not list all your names, know that your role and efforts in this process will always be valued.
As our journey takes a different direction, I draw strength from my favourite African proverb, "If you want to go fast, go alone; If you want to go far, go together"! We will achieve our goal together...