Collapse of Cologne City Archives


On 5 March the Cologne City Archive building collapsed. The archive contained over 26 kilometres of records dating back to the 10th century. This includes the personal papers of Nobel prize-winning author Heinrich Boell and records belonging to the composer Jacques Offenbach, Karl Marx, Hegel, and West Germany’s first Chancellor Konrad Adenauer – as well as photographs, maps and rare books. How much will be recovered is still unknown.

This disaster brought home just how fragile archives are, and how important. The people of Cologne have lost a vital link with their past. As a story from The Times states: ‘The German city of Cologne woke up yesterday without a memory’. This memory loss, however large it turns out to be, will touch not just Cologne but the whole of Europe and the world.

Increasingly, libraries and archives are copying their holdings partly to mitigate the effects of a disaster. This has been going on for a long time, and indeed records from the Cologne City Archives had been copied onto microfilm and stored in another location. Many of the records copied as part of the EAP are endangered because they are at risk of being damaged or lost through disasters such as fire and flood. Many simply exist in unhealthy storage environments.

One of the more unusual threats to archives is butter lamps. The project Digital documentation of manuscript collection in Gangtey made digital copies of Buddhist manuscripts from Gangtey Monastery in Bhutan. These manuscripts are kept at the monastery and are in danger of accidentally being burnt from the butter lamps used by the monks. The project successfully digitised the entire collection of manuscripts at Gangety.

Most of these were written in the 17th century and are beautiful artefacts in their own right. Many were written in the dbu can calligraphy and begin with miniatures of the Buddha and Buddhist hierarchs.

Previously published on blogs.bl.uk and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Photo credit: Istockphoto.com