The Reading Room of the Jagger Library has been gutted by the Cape Town fire which was allegedly started by a vagrant near Rhodes Memorial. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)
The Reading Room of the Jagger Library has been gutted by the Cape Town fire which was allegedly started by a vagrant near Rhodes Memorial. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

UCT scrambles to recover valuable material lost in library fire

By Sisonke Mlamla Time of article published Apr 22, 2021

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Cape Town - The UCT community, including the alumni, have urged researchers around the world who have photocopies or images of documents destroyed in the Jagger Library fire to contribute those to help recover some of the lost records.

Dr Maha Rafi Atal, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Copenhagen Business School in Frederiksberg, Denmark, took an initiative to establish a registry of copies of materials that researchers have among their research collections.

Atal, who is collecting the information online, said in light of the fire at UCT on Sunday, academics and other researchers around the world who have worked in those special collections and have taken photocopies or mobile phone images of documents may be able to contribute those to help recover some of the lost records.

Historian, professor Carolyn Hamilton, who chairs the archive and public culture initiative at the National Research Foundation at UCT, said Atal had written to them, indicating she would deposit the spreadsheet in the online library, whenever it was ready to receive it.

Hamilton said the library could then mine it for material over time for reconstitution projects, and that would be a valuable register.

“We are aware that many people are responding to this initiative and we are grateful to all who have combed through their research matter,” she said.

Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande said he was saddened by the fact the fire destroyed, among others, the African Studies Library.

Nzimande said the library housed the ANC archives and record of the underground publications.

“This library is also repository of the Bleek Lloyd collection of recorded stories and notebooks of their engagement with the /Xam and !Kun Cape San people of the mid 19th century, as well as original copies of pioneering isiXhosa newspapers like Imvo ZabaNtsundu, among others,” said Nzimande.

UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said the university acknowledged the outpouring of messages of support and offers of assistance from national entities and international institutions for crisis conservation and library disaster recovery efforts.

Moholola said the archived and published print collections kept in the reading room were consumed by the flames.

He said those included the vast majority of the African Studies Published Print Collection (approximately 70 000 items), the entire African Studies Film Collection on DVD (approximately 3 500), all the UCT university calendars, some of the heavily used government publication documents from South Africa and across the continent, and manuscripts and archives kept in the reading room for processing, digitisation or awaiting transfer after being digitised.

Black Academic Caucus (BAC) at UCT welcomed the widespread support to assist in restoring academic material lost from the Jagger Library.

BAC encouraged the university to speedily prioritise the digitisation of all historically important materials and academic documents going forward.

UCT Association of Black Alumni deputy president advocate Rod Solomons said they particularly wanted to assist with the “rebuilding” of the African Studies department.

“We have reached out to the dean of that faculty and indicated our intention to provide support that might be technical, professional, or financial,” said Solomons.

National Library of SA (NLSA) spokesperson Jolene Bhadais said they stood in solidarity with UCT libraries in the wake of the devastating fires.

Bhadais said as UCT Libraries identify specific needs during their journey of recovering and rebuilding, the NLSA pledged to support and assist where possible.

“The NLSA's collections and services are available to all and we urge the students and faculty of UCT to visit our website to access our digital collections and to visit our Cape Town or Pretoria campuses to access our physical collections,” said Bhadais.

She said research queries or requests for appointments to access “Special Collections” could be emailed to their librarians on [email protected] (Cape Town) or [email protected] (Pretoria).

Meanwhile, SANParks had appointed an independent forensic investigator to determine the cause of the fire.

SANParks chief executive Fundisile Mketeni said a joint briefing would be held once an investigative report is concluded in two weeks.

The City’s Disaster Risk Management Centre said repairs to roadways and other City infrastructure were under way.

Cape Argus

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