Endangered collections: risks and strategies


During the Great War, in the night of 25-26 August 1914, soldiers set the fourteenth-century University Hall and its eighteenth-century library wing of the University of Leuven (Belgium) ablaze. To commemorate the hundredth Anniversary of the Library’s destruction, the University of Leuven (KU Leuven) organized a three day international conference on the challenging topic: What do we lose when we lose a library? with the support of the Goethe-Institut Brüssel and the British Council, Brussels. 

The fragility of libraries in their material and digital dimension remains one of the great challenges for the transmission of human knowledge. It is a timely subject, with conflict situations resulting in the destruction of century-old libraries and the looting of unique collections like those of Mosul in Iraq.

Over 30 speakers from Africa, the Middle-East, Europe and the US gathered in Leuven to discuss risks and strategies for threatened collections. They presented cutting edge research and ideas in the field of library, information and knowledge preservation, and reflected on the importance and the value of the ‘library’ as an institution guaranteeing transmission of knowledge to the next generations.

Digitisation is an important element in retaining and disseminating this invaluable knowledge at risk. Librarian Abdel Kader Haidara, for example, has been fervently looking for international partners to preserve and open up some of the well over 300.000 items saved from the upheaval caused by the Tuareg and Jihadi militia siege in 2012. In 2015, the Imaging Lab set to work with sixteen manuscripts from the Mamma Haidara Library (Timbuktu, Mali).

The proceedings of this conference ‘What do we lose when we lose a library’ are now ready and available here.


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