Update from UCT Libraries ED: Wrapping up the salvage phase and the way forward

13 May 2021
13 May 2021

Dear All

As I write this update, I reflect on all that has come to pass during these three weeks and the mind boggles at what we did and achieved. Our vulnerabilities and weaknesses at the beginning of the process are to be acknowledged however the fact remains that none of us had any experience of the scale of this disaster, not only at UCT but at any South African university library.

Victory through diffusion of leadership

But we engaged with experts behind the scenes and despite cross-communication and frustrations at times, we collectively worked at finding solutions within a limited environment. This required adaptive and diffusion of leadership, a strong sense of doing the right thing, project management and a deep sense of responsibility and accountability.

Jagger Library Salvage completed

Therefore I’m pleased to inform you that as of Monday, May 10, Phase One: Salvage of the entire holdings kept in the Jagger Library basements was completed. We succeeded in removing these holdings in over 12 000 crates, which are stored in 10 different sites and four containers, with the exception of our map cabinets, which occupy a 250sqm footprint. In addition to the clearing of the basement, the fire rubble was cleared from the site. Several items were removed from this site and will be used as keepsakes of the Reading Room.

Materials move to triage and various sites

Our materials have been distributed to cold storage for long-term intervention; cold storage for freeze-drying commencing on Monday, 17 May; damp materials for air drying or dehumidifying; and dry materials for shelving. The recovery of our rare and antiquarian materials has been outsourced. In addition, the monitoring of the stored/crated materials at the various sites is ongoing. This is to check for damp and obviate the onset of mould. Any evidence hereof results in immediate withdrawal for triage where the appropriate intervention is applied. We do however aim to dismantle the triage tent on Friday, 21 May.

Appeal regarding photo taking and sharing

During these three weeks, we all shared a common noble purpose and goal. However, it did not detract from the curiosity about the fire and water damage, the extent of damage and what materials were damaged. And so lots of photographs were taken in the basements and the triage tents. My appeal is to please avoid using any photos that show titles of folders, names of collections and other significant administrative information that could give rise to conjecture and speculation. We have been fielding enquiries about individual collections in a very responsible manner. We are now in a better position to report on the aftermath of this catastrophe in a more informed and responsible manner.

And so what's next?

We will now be moving onto Phase 2: Recovery with attention being paid to the following:
  1. Relocation to new premises and creating a place of belonging for staff
  2. Reconstitute the Special Collections as a library with all the necessary library and archive accoutrements.
  3. Relocate dry materials to the new premises
  4. Establish a preservation/conservation unit on-site for ongoing preservation based on the scope of materials for rehabilitation.
  5. Assessment of the holdings and collections towards the compilation of a first report


This herculean task was achieved by the commitment and efforts of sponsors, volunteer conservators and an army of over 2000 volunteers drawn from UCT, alumni, students and civil society. In addition, the behind-the-scenes-work of the Divisions of Properties & Services, Finance and Alumni & Development must be acknowledged for their unstinting support and expediting this salvage and recovery process.

And most importantly, UCT Libraries staff across the system who volunteered their time and skills as coordinators and team leads; ensured business continuity via the virtual library services; managing the communications via the #JaggerLibraryRecovery page and our social media platforms; and the Special Collections team, who despite their sense of loss and dispossession, were most inspiring by taking ownership and the lead in the trenches of this salvage process. Your collective indelible presence will forever be linked with this historic moment.

Once again a huge thank you to each one of you! As an adherent of the principle “One organisation, many leaders”, it was a marvel to behold the demonstration of the selfless diffusion of leadership on a daily basis. Together we achieved this!

Ujala Satgoor
Executive Director