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.
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.
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.
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 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.
The library housed rare and archival materials, including periodicals from the early 19th century and publications about Mackintosh.
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.
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 again to The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service for the service!!!