Positive progress in the Jagger Library Salvage Project

09 June 2021 | Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

Dear colleagues and students

It is now almost two months since we lost the Jagger Library in the fire that struck the University of Cape Town (UCT) upper campus on 18 April. I’m happy to report positive progress in the hard work that so many people have put into recovering the archives from the Jagger basements, led by the skilful UCT Libraries team. The first steps of this process have been documented in a series of striking photographs taken by colleagues in the Communication and Marketing Department (CMD).

On behalf of UCT and the UCT Libraries colleagues, I thank everyone who played a role in this arduous process. We would not have made it this far without the help of individuals and organisations who provided what we needed to begin the salvage and conservation work, including materials, specialised equipment, financial donations and muscle power. I give special thanks to our colleagues who work in UCT Libraries and whose life work has been affected by this tragedy.

Here are a few statistics to give you a glimpse into the scope of the salvage project:

  • 10 000: the number of items that are in cold storage as part of the rehabilitation process for water-damaged materials
  • 12 900: the number of crates that were filled with materials to minimise handling during their removal from the basements
  • 2 000: the number of hard-working volunteers who helped us throughout the salvage project. These volunteers worked five-hour shifts, from 08:00 to 18:00 between 21 April and 10 May
  • 17: the number of days it took to remove the materials from the Jagger Library basements
  • 8: the number of locations where materials have been stored after triage (during which time experts separated wet and dry materials and determined the appropriate intervention for impacted materials)
  • 0: we are pleased to report that due to strict protocols and induction in place, no person tested positive for COVID-19.

Details of the restoration work, including the South African and international experts who travelled to UCT or advised us from afar on the preservation processes, are provided in my VC Desk of 7 May: “Update on restoring UCT Property”.

The Special Collections team are moving into interim premises in Mowbray, where they will reconstitute as a library and continue the restoration work.

It is important to note that during this salvage process, UCT Libraries colleagues continued their other services without fail. This includes all transactional services by request; research support for masters and PhD students in collaboration with leading national and international universities and the National Library of South Africa; and keeping all branches of the Libraries available as study spaces and the Virtual Library Services.

Please join me in wishing the members of the UCT Libraries team well as they continue their delicate and important restoration of UCT’s priceless archives.


Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

Please note: Donations can be made online through the UCT Alumni Ways to Give web page.

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