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UCT fire damage: Call for volunteers to help with salvage operations at Jagger Library

Salvage workers pack books at the University of Cape Town after the Jagger Reading Room was destroyed by fire. The university called for crates to store critical academic resources to ensure the survival of delicate and irreplaceable materials. (Photo by Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

Salvage work at the Jagger Library at the University of Cape Town is under way after the Table Mountain fire of Sunday, 18 April.

Read here: UCT burns: Mountain inferno wreaks havoc in Mother City

The executive director of UCT Libraries, Ujala Satgoor, said volunteers were still needed to help salvage and remove works in the Jagger Library in the wake of the recent fire that swept across Table Mountain.

The University of Cape Town’s Jagger Reading Room was left in ruins after a wildfire destroyed the facility. (Photo: Gallo Images / Die Burger / Jaco Marais)

“Volunteers are needed to help move vulnerable materials to a safer location. They can use this link to register and get more information in terms of dates that are available for shifts.

A firefighter walks through the destroyed nearly 200-year-old Jagger Reading Room. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Nic Bothma)

“We have until 10 May to empty the basements of all materials before the building becomes a designated construction site. Thus far, at least 50% of our materials have been removed in order of urgency and priority. As materials are brought out by a human chain of volunteers, they are inspected for the extent of damage incurred and the appropriate action is assigned by the team of conservators in the triage centre. 

Materials are packed after the blaze. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

“Materials are being stored off-site in crates as a temporary conservation measure before the full rehabilitation,” said Satgoor.

Since 1953, the Jagger Library has housed most of the African Studies collection, maps, rare antiquarian books, film, video collections, newspapers, journals, magazines, pamphlets, manuscripts and photographs. Most of these publications are scarce and date back to the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The university has until 10 May to empty the Jagger Library basements before the building becomes a construction site. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

In a letter addressed to UCT students and staff, vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng listed the resources lost in the fire.

“The fire destroyed most of the African Studies published print collection, including the entire African Studies film collection on DVD, all the UCT calendars, some of the heavily used government publications documents from South Africa and across the continent, and manuscripts and archives kept in the reading room for processing or digitisation or awaiting transfer after being digitised. 

Thus far, at least 50% of materials have been removed in order of urgency and priority, says UCT. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

“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,” she said.

In her letter, Phakeng said the full extent of the loss was presently unknown but that they were still working on the list and it would eventually be made available.

Materials are being stored off-site in crates as a temporary conservation measure. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

According to Kylie Hatton, UCT’s director of communication and marketing, the fire damaged only the Jagger Reading Room section and not the entire library. Hatton confirmed that progress had been made in removing vulnerable materials and that many people had come forward to offer help.

“We have had over 400 volunteers and staff working throughout the weekend to salvage what we can from the building, and there are still more resources needing rescue. We will share more information during this week on our needs, but thank you again to everyone,” Hatton said.

The UCT community is in the process of formulating a recovery plan and has invited the world beyond South Africa to help with the new vision of rebuilding the Jagger Library. DM/MC

Financial assistance to help rebuild the library can be sent to the UCT donations account:

Standard Bank of South Africa
Account no: 071522387
Branch: Rondebosch
Branch code: 025009
Swift code: SBZAZAJJ

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