Jagger reflections: ‘It was ... my church’

24 May 2021 | Reflections Ian Rijsdijk and Martha Evans. Photo Je’nine May. Read time 3 min.
Two academics from UCT’s Centre for Film and Media Studies share their reflections on the burning down of the Jagger Library.
Two academics from UCT’s Centre for Film and Media Studies share their reflections on the burning down of the Jagger Library.

Falling in love

I fell in love with film in the building that is now the African Studies library. Back then, it was the Short Loan section, and I opened the catalogue of VHS tapes at A and began my film education. The losses are more than just the physical materials that may have been lost, but also the place of the library in the ecology of learning. It is so connected to my teaching of African and South African film over the past 20 years, and I always relished the chance to guide students to the special video collections housed there. Entering the reading room was always a beautiful, reflective and inspiring moment, too.

I think what I will miss is the chance to find the marginal, local things in my research that I would find nowhere else. I loved waiting with expectation for the materials to be brought to my reading table. The detective in me couldn’t wait to start the search for that golden moment of discovery, the chance to find something original and little known that would contribute to my own research or teaching.

Finally, I cannot express how much I appreciate the work of the Special Collections librarians over the years who tirelessly dedicated themselves to building and nurturing those collections. They are close and cherished colleagues and I feel deeply for their grief at the moment.

Dr Ian Rijsdijk

A site of significance

I worked as a student librarian when the room was set up as the Short Loan section, so I have watched the building transform over the years, and I feel intimately connected to the space. It was, as I have said elsewhere, my church.

Its 2011 refurbishment was a triumph. It was always delightful to leave the hustle and bustle of campus and to slip into the coolth and quiet of the reading room.

It was the site of significant historical discoveries for me. Recently, I've been researching the life of Struggle stalwart Lilian Ngoyi, and it was in Jagger Reading Room that I uncovered the identity of her grandfather, a trail-blazing Methodist missionary who was a historical figure in his own right. It was in the Jagger Reading Room that I read an original letter that Ngoyi wrote to Ray Alexander about her visit to Nelson Mandela on Robben Island.

These were significant moments for me as a scholar, and I am so saddened by the loss of both the space and the numerous records it housed.

Dr Martha Evans

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