I just heard that several international museums are going to donate pieces to the damaged museum in Brazil to help it rebuild its collection. This is of course good news, but made me think about the history of the University Library of Leuven (Louvain) in Belgium. (1/6)

As you may know, Belgium tried to stay neutral during WWI, but was invaded by the German army, who wanted to use the territory to invade France. Leuven was especially hard hit, since the Germans believed it harbored a group of resistance fighters. The whole town was laid in ashes. Only the town hall remained standing. (2/6)

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The library of the Catholic University of Leuven and every book and manuscript that was in it was destroyed in the fire. This was devastating moment in the war – the whole world spoke ill of the atrocities by the Germans and the event was used by the British to stir up hatred for the Germans – but the reason I'm thinking about this now is because of what happened after. (3/6)

After the war, in reaction to these atrocities, several countries around the world started a movement to help rebuild the Leuven Library. Apparently, the US was especially generous with books and manuscripts. It was also a part of the Treaty of Versailles that Germany would help restore the collection of the library. This meant that when the library reopened in 1928 it already had a collection that was much larger than its collection in 1914. (4/6)

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During the second World War, Belgium once again failed to remain neutral when Germany invaded the country in 1940. And again, Leuven was especially hard hit. British fighters that were stationed in the town fought an artillery battle with the German army on the square in front of the University Library. The ensuing fire that damaged parts of the building destroyed virtually every single piece of the more than 900.000 books and manuscripts that were in its collection. (5/6)

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Many of these were of course donated in the decades before. Some of them were centuries old.

After the war, the library was rebuilt according to the original building plan, and today it houses more than four million books. (6/6)

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@maher A good lesson.

People also forget that what built the Ptolemaic library in Alexandria was not so much buying manuscripts but copying them: texts were temporarily confiscated at the port and copied to build the wonder. Whether licensed or samizdat, future library efforts may require aggressive reduplication and conspicuously creative dedication to keeping texts secure from neglect or catastrophe.

@Shufei I agree, but I think since so many libraries and institutions around the world are working hard on digitizing their collections, it’s a whole different story now. At least, I hope events like these will have less dramatic consequences in the future.

@maher mooi stuk! Ook weer een bevestiging dat oorlog waanzin is

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