The devastating fires which ravaged parts of the University of Cape Town (UCT), leading to the destruction of the Jagger Reading Room, is a major blow to scholars (students and staff) of Africa at UCT. For those of us at the Centre for African Studies, this library was an invaluable resource and its destruction has left a huge hole in our teaching and research endeavours. Personally, the African Studies library and the Special Collections were a gold mine of information on Africa on which my research and teaching heavily relied.
One of the best features of this library was that you always found the book or other materials you were looking for because materials couldn’t leave the library. I often went to the library on Fridays after 15:00, when the photocopier was less busy, to browse through books and photocopy the most relevant pages. Whenever I was in the library, I spent most of the time in front of the photocopier, trying to extract as much information from some of the rare materials which the library had. For me, this library was a place I went when I could not find what I was looking for in the main library. In this sense, the Jagger Reading Room was the “lender” of last resort. I always knew what I was looking for when I went there, and I always got what I was looking for. This is what made this library special.
Every time I went to the library, I found both staff and students engagingly trying to make the most of the valuable resources the library offered. The destruction of the library by fire has not only meant that the Special Collections, which this library housed, has disappeared but also that if I can’t find a book in the main library, I have no alternative. For materials that were only housed in this library, that is all gone now. As a resource dedicated to making information about Africa readily available, the loss of this library is a major blow to our academic project as African scholars at UCT. Students and staff who relied on the resources the library provided are now left without the valuable information the library made available. Many students who were in the process of finalising their research studies are now left stranded and do not know where to turn to. The magnitude of the loss of the library to the research community at UCT is unimaginable!
Professor Horman Chitonge
Centre for African Studies
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