13000 crates of Special Collections materials were removed from the Jagger basement during an emergency salvage project, all thanks to Libraries staff and a volunteer corps of 2000.


The formalization of a disaster management project of salvage and recovery facilitated the infrastructure and logistics required to enable the emergency evacuation of the Jagger basements to retrieve and salvage the materials in the basement. This salvage exercise commenced on 22 April and was completed on 17 May through the concerted efforts of Libraries staff and a volunteer corps of 2000. It involved the installation of a triage area staffed by expert conservators and members of the public who volunteered their time and resources to assist UCT Libraries. The triage of recovered but damaged materials resulted in approximately 1000 crates of materials awaiting remedial conservation and restoration.

Key Moments

  • Basement found flooded, some material survived

    The technical team discover flooding of the basements of the Jagger Library from the ingress caused by the enormous amount of water used to douse the fire. Small pockets of bookshelves survived unscathed where the flames did not reach. In consultation with the Libraries ED and Principal Archivist, the decision was made to remove all materials from the Jagger basement levels.
  • Salvage process begins

    A decision was made to remove all materials from the basements after an initial assessment was done by UCT Libraries Special Collections staff. After the building was declared safe for entry, the most valuable collections identified were marked for immediate removal.
  • Call for volunteers and crates made on all media channels

    From Thursday 22 April, a call was made for volunteers to remove materials that survived the fire but which were under the new threat of water damage.
  • Army of volunteers form a human chain

    The volunteer corps became an ‘army for the archive’ with the singular goal - the speedy removal of the collections from the wet, mouldy basements.
  • Jagger Library Recovery webpage launched

    A dedicated Jagger Library Recovery support page was created to manage communications regarding the recovery efforts. Link: http://www.lib.uct.ac.za/jagger-recovery
  • Volunteers attend salvage training

    Mandatory training on the salvage operation process and the health and safety protocols that needed to be adhered to.
  • Rescued materials lay in ten sites across campus

    Materials moved from the triage tent to 10 storage locations across Upper Campus. Four mobile storage containers – two for cold storage, and two for drying wet books - were set up on the Plaza. Some books and materials moved to shelves erected in the Library Learning Lounge, a collaborative space dubbed a "library without books".
  • Roof trusses removed from the remains of Jagger Library

    "Witnessing the removal of the trusses was indeed poignant! While each truss seemed to be removed with an unhurried delicate touch, the distorted shapes spoke to the intense heat of the blaze. There seemed to be consensus amongst those present that a particular truss must be used as a commemorative artwork in the reimagined space." - Ujala Satgoor, UCT Libraries ED
  • Clearing the rubble from the Jagger Library site

    The Reading Room was declared off-limits due to the instability of the building. Rubble removal and remnants of the old roof were mechanically lifted by crane in the first few days of the salvage.
  • Jagger Library Salvage Project completed

    All materials on shelves and compactus were removed from the Jagger basement. This includes all rolled materials. The salvaged holdings were contained in over 12 000 crates and stored in 10 different sites and four containers, with the exception of the map cabinets, which occupy a 250sqm footprint.
  • The ǂKhomani San | Hugh Brody Collection escapes the fire

    The ǂKhomani San | Hugh Brody Collection, a crucial collection, escaped the Jagger Library fire. The collection had been used in a recent project and was not in its usual basement location. If it had been there during the fire, it is likely that the material would have had water damage. The collection is now completely digitised.
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Salvage in Numbers

By 17 May 2021, Jagger’s basements were almost entirely emptied and moved to various temporary onsite and offsite storage spaces. This included

In early June, nearly 100 cabinets from the basements, containing architectural drawings and maps, were transported by Stuttafords Van Lines to Maitland House 2, the interim premises for Special Collections. This concluded the first phase of the project.

Photo Albums

Day 1 - Salvage process of Jagger Library

Day 2 - Salvage process of Jagger Library

Day 3 - Salvage process of Jagger Library

Day 4 - Salvage process of Jagger Library

Salvaging work inside the AC Jordan Building