On 18 April 2021 our professional lives were changed so unexpectedly and drastically by the quirkiness of both fire and water. It's been a month of shock and deep-seated pain that witnessed the sad and joyous coming together of friends and colleagues to mourn the loss and celebrate the influence this elegant and splendid library had on many individuals, scholars and librarians; the selflessness and selfishness of human nature during a time of crisis; the generosity of spirit and goodwill to ease the burden of loss; and the commitment of time, effort and expertise to find the best solutions to salvage and recover that which was under threat.
A salvage operation began to retrieve valuable materials from the Jagger Reading Room, which was severely damaged in the runaway Table Mountain fire. Staff, students, and volunteers from outside the university came together in a beautiful expression of community and camaraderie to save what was left of the Special Collections housed there. The university would like to express its sincerest gratitude to all the volunteers for their overwhelming support. Lerato Maduna and Je’nine May were there to catch it all on camera.
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 week of salvage and retrieval of materials from the basements of the Jagger Library was a lesson in despair and hope, collegiality and camaraderie, patience and impatience, stoicism and endless possibilities.
A huge shout-out to our volunteers - students, academics, retired and current Libraries staff, UCT staff, conservators (retired and current who have taken leave to be with us), staff from sister institutions, and local Capetonians who responded to our call for help this weekend. You made it possible for us to move 2172 crates of materials since Thursday and we will be continuing this week. And so a huge thank you to each one of you for showing up and making a difference.
Dismay and grief met the news that the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) historic Jagger Reading Room had been lost to fire on 18 April. The Jagger Reading Room was home to the African Studies collection, started in 1953, as well as portions of many other collections: journals, ephemera, manuscripts, film and video, and maps and rare antiquarian books.
A “tragedy of unspeakable proportions” is how current and past staff of the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Jagger Reading Room described the fire that left their beloved library – a safe, beautiful space, and home away from home – in utter ruins.
An unexpected natural disaster struck at the heart of UCT Libraries today and I write this message with a deep sense of sorrow and loss at the havoc and devastation it wrought upon the Reading Room of the Jagger Library.
Dikeledi ha di wele fatshe (loosely translated as “Tears do not fall in vain”) has been published by UCT Libraries and is available on the open-access platform, which means it’s accessible to readers outside the campus community.
The 14th of August marks the anniversary of the 1968 UCT sit-in over the Mafeje Affair. To mark this occasion, archivist Clive Kirkwood has written a blog post showcasing the wide range of primary sources used in Emeritus Professor Howard Phillips’ second volume of a history of the University of Cape Town. UCT under Apartheid Part I: From Onset to Sit-in covers the years 1948-1968 and draws on primary sources held in UCT Libraries’ Special Collections.
UCT Libraries is working with African Tongue to develop a new showcase of the ǂKhomani San community. This will involve re-development of a showcase website in close collaboration with community members, African Tongue, Special Collections and Digital Library Services.
On 16 May, Dr Sanjin Muftic (DLS) and Dr Kerry Jones (African Tongue) co-presented at the First Workshop on Resources for African Indigenous Languages organised by the South African Centre for Digital Language Resources (SADiLaR). This conference was originally meant to be held at the LREC 2020 conference in Marseille, France.
An updated edition of the Guide to the Manuscripts in the UCT Libraries has been published and is accessible on the Special Collections website. The Guide provides a synoptic collection-level overview of the manuscript and archival holdings of UCT Libraries’ Special Collections.