by Mandy Noble
Mandy Noble is the Principal Librarian for Published Collections in Special Collections at UCT Libraries.
Nearly two years have passed since the devastating fire on April 18, 2021, which saw the destruction of the Jagger Reading Room and all the contents therein. The salvage of the library materials that were not damaged by the fire or by the water used to douse the fire was completed by the end of May 2021. Materials salvaged included books and journals from the African Studies Collection, colonial materials from the Government Publications collection and books from the Rare and Antiquarian book collections.
By the end of July/August 2021 the Published Collection team and most of the recovered stock had been relocated to temporary premises in Maitland House 2 in Mowbray. Here, the recovery and rebuilding of the African Studies collection and the Rare Books collections began in earnest.
Rebuilding the Government Publications collection continues at the Chancellor Oppenheimer Library on the Upper Campus where the Government Publications team will remain.
The recovery of the collections is twofold – each book is checked against the catalogue, the location changed to “Survived the fire”. In addition, each book is checked for severe damage and mould. The goal of our recovery process is to enable users access during this interim period, albeit in a small way, to the African Studies and Government Publications collections.
The work of cataloguing requires highly skilled and experienced staff, ideally those who are already familiar with the affected collections. We have been extremely fortunate to have been able to employ four retired library staff to assist with these tasks. Approximately 31 328 African Studies books were salvaged from various locations in the Jagger Reading Room. Two retired library staff, Valerie Bruce and Allegra Louw, have been employed in 2022 and 2023 on a part-time contract to assist the Published Collections team with this somewhat daunting task. Val and Allegra have years of experience in both cataloguing and the African Studies collection. To date 25 182 books have been checked in on the Library Catalogue. These are now potentially available for use under special circumstances.
Approximately 33 966 pamphlets were salvaged from the Jagger Library basement. To date 28 709 have been checked in on the Library Catalogue. This has been the work of the Principal Library Assistant, Belinda Southgate. The African Studies pamphlet is one of the largest such collections and contains many unique titles, many of them originating from NGOs and political organisations that are no longer in existence.
Laureen Rushby and Zukie Wani with the assistance of Hajiera Davids have been following the same procedure with the Government Publications.
Now that the majority of African Studies books have been checked in on the catalogue, two members of the team, Busi Khangala and Thundeza Mafungwa are starting to check in books from the various rare book collections.
While work continues for the salvaged books, the purchasing of new titles (both in print and electronic) for the collections is ongoing. We have also been very fortunate to have been the recipient of many donations – large and small – from private individuals, including UCT academic staff and from academics nationally and internationally and from large institutions in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Moira Baard, a retired highly experienced cataloguer joined the team 2022 as a contract cataloguer and has been cataloguing newly purchased and donated books for the African Studies collection. She will be joining the team again in March 2023.
Bev Angus, also a retired staff member with a deep knowledge of the African Studies film collection has also joined the contract team in 2022 and 2023 and has been sourcing and ordering DVDs to replace those lost in the fire. To date 401 DVDs have been processed. She has been sharing her knowledge and experience of all aspects of collection development and maintenance of the African Studies film collection with the newest member of the Published Collections team, Tebogo Moselagkomo.
Some days when the number of books to be checked in and the number of donated and purchased materials for cataloguing and processing is too daunting, I remember what a colleague said to me: Future librarians and users will thank us! We take one crate, one book at a time and remain grateful that so much was salvaged and that so many individuals and university libraries have thought of us and donated their collections.