The shocking images of the flames lighting up the windows of the Jagger Reading Room from the inside will be burnt into the minds of Capetonians for years to come.
Widely shared on social media on Sunday 18 April, the photographs showed the library located at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Rondebosch campus engulfed by a fire that broke out early that morning close to Rhodes Memorial.
While what exactly was destroyed in the fire has been largely kept under wraps since then, UCT today (Wednesday 21 April) released information on the extent of the damage. According to a statement released by UCT, the fire destroyed the Jagger Reading Room, gutting its roof and destroying the galleries, adjacent stores and offices.
It went on to say that the team at UCT Libraries could confirm that the archival and published print collections kept within the reading room (previously known as the JW Jagger Library) had been consumed by the flames.
Residual damage due to the flooding of the building and possible seepage into the various spaces and two basement stores were also expected.While a mapping exercise identified materials damaged, the library team said a full assessment of the destruction could only happen once the building was declared safe and staff were permitted on site.
So far, UCT confirms that the archival and published print collections kept within the building were destroyed. These include 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 publications documents from South Africa and across the continent, and manuscripts and archives kept in the building for processing or digitisation or awaiting transfer after being digitised.
“A significant institutional loss is the original card catalogues for the manuscripts and archives repositories, the history of UCT Libraries, and the Special Collections Archive Office and administrative records,” Elijah Moholola, spokesperson for UCT, said.
With regards to possible residual damage, the areas that were affected house part of the African Studies collection; the Pamphlet collections; the African Studies Poster collection; rare and antiquarian books; primary source materials, including the manuscripts and archives repository; the Modern Photography prints; the All Things UCT collection, which includes photographs, news clippings, periodicals and publications related to the history of the university; and the Architectural collections, which includes most oversized architectural drawings.
“The libraries team will not know the full extent of the residual damage for a while. A list will eventually be made available once donors and owners of collections entrusted to UCT Libraries are informed,” said Moholola.
UCT vice-chancellor Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng said it was a sad day for UCT and UCT Libraries.
“This loss will be felt deeply across our community as the libraries are so critical to all of us. We cannot replace the treasures of scholarship we have lost, but we can create new treasures out of our scholarship. In the same way, each of us can rebuild our sense of purpose out of this tragedy. Our colleagues in the libraries have a long road ahead of them and many of us feel the devastation of the loss of this significant institutional asset but we will walk this road to rebuild our facilities together,” Phakeng said.