300px|Birmingham Central Library
destroyed by fire, 1879
Libraries have been deliberately or accidentally destroyed or badly damaged. Sometimes a library
is purposely destroyed as a form of cultural cleansing
There are examples of accidentally destroyed libraries by human actions. Other times they are damaged by natural disasters like earthquakes, floods or accidental fires.
Library fires have happened sporadically through the centuries: notable examples are the destruction of the Library of Alexandria
, destruction of Library of Nalanda in India and the accidental burning of the Duchess Anna Amalia Library
in Weimar. Causes vary from arson
to the sun
's rays setting fire to leaflets through the action of a magnifying lens, as happened to a library in Northam, Devon
Causes and prevention
In earlier times mildew
was considered a major problem in many libraries and so the emphasis on library design was to increase air flow by, for example, leaving openings under the shelves in adjoining floors. In a fire the flames will be drawn floor to floor by the air flow thus ensuring the relatively easy destruction of a whole library rather than a small section.
Advances in technology have reduced the possibility of a library collection being destroyed by fire. These include water sprinklers, fire door
s, freezers, alarms, smoke detectors, suppression systems, and emergency generators. Older libraries are usually converted by closing up air flow openings and installing fire doors, alarms and sprinklers. Air conditioning reduces the mold problems. These are all essential parts of new library design.
There is no recovery possible if a book is burnt so it is accepted that a better solution is to put out the fire with water and then dry out the books. As mold destroys paper the books are frozen until they can be dried. This process will damage the book but not destroy it and the information will be intact.
In order to minimize the possibility of damage from fire, or other causes, and decrease the time needed for recovery after a destructive event, all libraries need a disaster management and recovery plan. This can be an ongoing process which will include professional development following updates in technology for key staff, training for the remaining staff, checking and maintaining disaster kits, and review of the disaster plan.
In addition, fire-safety investigations are periodically carried out, especially regarding historical libraries. The Library of Congress
, for example, experienced a year-long inspection in 2000. Before the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995
, the Library of Congress and all Capitol Hill buildings were exempt from safety regulations.
[Fineberg, Gail. "Moving Toward a Safer Library. Compliance Office Issues Fire Safety Report," Library of Congress Information Bulletin 60 no. 3, 65, March 2001]
Balancing historical preservation and contemporary safety standards proves to be a difficult task for "even a 12-year rehabilitation of LC completed in 1997 did not address many fire hazards". After the Compliance Office inspection, however, the LC announced their wholehearted commitment "to achieving the highest level of safety possible" and "the Architect of the Capitol
and Library of Congress will report their progress to the Office of Compliance
every three months".
Information technology is another catalyst for careful fire protection. With so many computers in libraries there "is a decrease in floor space and an increase in more compact and powerful computer systems" which generates more heat and requires the use of many more outlets, increasing the number of potential ignition sources.
[Fixen, Edward L. and Vidar S. Landa,"Avoiding the Smell of Burning Data," ''Consulting-Specifying Engineer'', May 2006, Vol. 39 Issue 5, p47-51]
From as early as the 1950s the potential dangers of computer equipment, and the facilities that house them, was recognized. Thus in 1962 the National Fire Protection Association began developing the first safety standards specifically applicable to electronic computer systems.
This standard is called NFPA 75 Protection of Information Technology Equipment. FM Global Data Sheet 5–32 is another standard providing guidelines to protect against not only fire, but water, power loss, etc.
* Book burning
* List of book-burning incidents
* ''The Enemies of Books
* Library damage resulting from the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake
* List of libraries damaged during World War II
* Planned destruction of Warsaw
* Siege of Sarajevo
* List of destroyed heritage
The Bosnian Manuscript Ingathering Project
– A call for Bosnian manuscripts ingathering
* Polastron, Lucien X. (2007) ''Libros en Llamas: historia de la interminable destrucción de bibliotecas''. Libraria,
* Knuth, Rebecca. ''Libricide : the regime-sponsored destruction of books and libraries in the twentieth century''.
* Polastron, Lucien X. ''Books on fire: the destruction of libraries throughout history''.
* Civallero, Edgardo. When Memory Turns into Ashes... Memoricide During the XX Century
* UNESCOLost Memory – Libraries and archives destroyed in the twentieth centuryBooks on Fire: The Destruction of Libraries Throughout History
Lucien Xavier Polastron. Translated by John E Graham. Inner Traditions. . .
*Ovenden, Richard ''Burning the Books''. London: John MurrayBurning the Books by Richard Ovenden review – the libraries we have lost
The Guardian; 31 August 2020; accessed 2020-09-02
The Bosnian Manuscript Ingathering Project
Category:Lists of libraries
Category:History of books