Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Library Bytes: Collapse in Köln

Word about the physical collapse of the building for the Historical Archive of Köln (Cologne), Germany on March 3 only seems to be hitting the American newsbytes in the past day or so. I checked with a few people today and no one had even heard about it before today. The picture you see here (taken by Federico Gambarini) is one of the images available with this article from the London Times from last week reporting on the catastrophe. All the staff and researchers got out in time, although early reports said that two construction workers were trapped. I have not read that anyone died in the collapse, so it seems the biggest misfortune is the devastating loss of material that was held in this archive. According to the article in the Times, among the holdings of this archive were some original manuscript writings by Karl Marx and handwritten musical scores by Jacques Offenbach. Reporter Roger Boyes notes one particular group of records whose potential loss is a serious tragedy: "The archives included the minutes of all town council meetings [for Cologne] held since 1376. Not a single session had been missed, making the collection a remarkable resource for legal historians." An update from the director, Dr. Ulrich S. Soénius, came through a email listservs today that salvage operations are in effect. They've been surprised by the fact that some of the archives seem to be completely intact or suffered only minimal damage, although many others have been completely destroyed. A full assessment will probably takes months to determine. The sad part is that apparently none of this material was ever digitized, which means that which was lost is now permanently lost. This is the type of situation that demonstrates the importance of digitizing such materials for future generations, but of course this takes a lot of money. What shocks me most, however, is that this six-story building was only constructed in the 1970s. Germany has enormous stone cathedrals dating back over 1,000 years that have withstood the tests of time, but a 35-year-old building comes tumbling down. I don't know much about architectural engineering, but there seems to be something seriously wrong with that.

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