In 1880 the printer and bibliographer William Blades published The Enemies of Books.


Among the enemies he described are fire, water, gas and heat, dust, ignorance and bookbinders. This book of horrors is a recurring nightmare for book-lovers all over the world and it cannot be denied that these ‘enemies’ are as powerful today as ever were before. The accumulation of books in this century and the continuing threats to the collections have made librarians more aware than ever that measures must be taken to preserve our written heritage.

An interior view of the bombed library at Holland House with readers apparently choosing books regardless of the damage. Fox Photos, a London photographic agency.

An interior view of the bombed library at Holland House with readers apparently choosing books regardless of the damage. Fox Photos, a London photographic agency.

This is true that libraries have suffered at the hands of men, it is equally true that nature has shown its destructive side as well. Many countries in Europe have been hit very hard as a result of First World War (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945), many countries in Asia have suffered losses on an equal scale. China has been particularly unfortunate: first, as a result of the Sino-Japanese war which started in 1937, hundreds of thousands of books were lost.

Many times libraries were purged of ‘reactionary, obscene and absurd’ destruction such as  during the Cultural Revolution of the sixties or  took place in Cambodia, following the rise to power of the Khmer Rouge in 1976 and  Afghanistan, after the capital Kabul had been the scene of intense fighting between different factions or Timbuktu  in March 2012.


A damaged Timbuktu manuscript saved during the rescue operation.

A damaged Timbuktu manuscript saved during the rescue operation.

The nature has shown its destructive side also.The earthquake which did such heavy damage to Japan in 1923, including the destruction of 700,000 volumes of the Imperial University Library in Tokyo. Among the losses were records of the Tokugawa Government and many manuscripts and old prints. World wide distress was also caused when the river Arno in Italy flooded library basements in Florence. More than 2 million books suffered water damage and restoration is still under way.


Visiting The Library

I still had a image of  the  Soviet Union’s Academy of Sciences Library in Leningrad from  September  1989 in my mind . I saw first time  fire and water damage  about 3,6 million books and it was may first experience with large scale disaster.


The building of the Imperial Academy of Sciences in Saint Petersburg on Universitetskaya Embankment. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Academy_of_Sciences


The Library of Russian Academy of Sciences – БАН (Библиотека Академии Наук)

The wet books were frozen, until all the freezer space in Leningrad was full. Then an appeal was broadcast over the radio for private citizens to dry the remaining books in their homes. By late March 93% of these books (600,000 by one account and 800,000 by another) had been dried by this means and returned to the library. Only about 10,000 books became mouldy, a small percentage of the total.

10 days ago on Friday 23rd the fire at Glasgow School of Art’s Charles Rennie Mackintosh building was reported at about 12.30pm.



The main damage was sustained by the west wing, built between 1907 and 1909, with the unique Mackintosh library and studio above it destroyed.


Flames burst through a window at the Glasgow School of Art’s Charles Rennie Mackintosh building. Photograph: Craig Watson/SNS Group


The library housed rare and archival materials, including periodicals from the early 19th century and publications about Mackintosh.




Here’s a photo of how this art nouveau gem formerly looked inside the Glasgow School of Art’s Charles Rennie Mackintosh before and after/ Barry Lewis/In Pictures/Corbis


 The school said it had been overwhelmed with offers of practical support from conservators and volunteers from Glasgow and around the world, as well as offers of financial assistance.


Louise Robertson paper conservator with archivists from the Glasgow School of Art have begun the operation to conserve items.

It has set up a Mackintosh Building Fire Fund web page for online donations and anyone wishing to offer support can do so via


                                                              Following an inspection of the site on Saturday, it was confirmed that the wing built between 1897 and 1899, including the Mackintosh museum and the furniture gallery, has survived intact. The school’s archives have also been saved.


“Thank You” sign in the distinctive Rennie Mackintosh font was placed round the neck of the firefighter statue outside Glasgow’s Grand Central Hotel.

 Thank you again to  The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service for the  service!!!


About conservationwithella

Hello, I'm Ella, Art on Paper Conservator & Preservation Manager at Glasgow University Archives and Special Collections. This blog is a walk through my daily life, work, arts & crafts history, my discovery that everything in my life is enough to be a continuous source of reflection. I started blogging to entertain myself but I hope you enjoy it too. I'm sure you agree, that Life without art is nothing. :)

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