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.
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 doors, 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. 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. 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.
|Image||Name of Library||City||Country||Date of Destruction||Perpetrator||Reason and/or Account of Destruction|
|Xianyang Palace and State Archives||Xianyang||Qin China||206 BC||Xiang Yu||Xiang Yu, rebelling against emperor Qin Er Shi, led his troops into Xianyang in 206 BC. He ordered the destruction of the Xianyang Palace by fire. (Qin Shi Huang had ordered the burning of books and burying of scholars earlier.)|
|Library of Alexandria||Alexandria||Ancient Egypt||Disputed||Disputed||Disputed, see destruction of the Library of Alexandria.|
|Library of Antioch||Antioch||Ancient Syria||364 AD||Emperor Jovian||The library had been heavily stocked by the aid of the perpetrator's non-Christian predecessor, Emperor Julian (the Apostate).|
|Library of the Serapeum||Alexandria||Ancient Egypt||392||Theophilus of Alexandria||The library was burned and looted at the perpetrator's decree, who was ordered to do so by Theodosius I.|
|Córdoba||Al-Andalus||976||Al-Mansur Ibn Abi Aamir & religious scholars||All books consisting of "ancient science" were destroyed in a surge of ultra-orthodoxy.|
|Library of Rayy||Rayy||Buyid Emirate||1029||Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni||Burned the library and all books deemed as heretical.|
|Library of Avicenna||Isfahan||Kakuyid Emirate||1034||Sultan Mas'ud I||After conquering the city of Isfahan, the library of Avicenna was destroyed.|
|Library of Banu Ammar (Dar al-'ilm)||Tripoli||Fatimid Caliphate||1109||Crusaders||Following Sharaf al-Daulah's surrender to Baldwin I of Jerusalem, Genoese mercenaries burned and looted part of the city. The library, Dar al-'ilm, was burned.|
|Library of Ghazna||Ghazna||Ghurid empire||1151||'Ala al-Din Husayn||City was sacked and burned for seven days. Libraries and palaces built by the Ghaznavids were destroyed.|
|Library of Nishapur||Nishapur||Seljuk Empire||1154||Oghuz Turks||City partially destroyed, libraries sacked and burned.|
|Nalanda||Nalanda||India||1193||Bakhtiyar Khilji||Nalanda University complex (the most renowned repository of Buddhist knowledge in the world at the time) was sacked by Turkic Muslim invaders under the perpetrator; this event is seen as a milestone in the decline of Buddhism in India.|
|Imperial Library of Constantinople||Constantinople||Byzantine Empire||1204||The Crusaders||In 1204, the library became a target of the knights of the Fourth Crusade. The library itself was destroyed and its contents burned or sold.|
|Alamut Castle's library||Alamut Castle||Iran||1256||Mongols||Library destroyed after the capture of Alamut Castle.|
|House of Wisdom||Baghdad||Iraq||1258||Mongols||Destroyed during the Battle of Baghdad|
|Libraries of Constantinople||Constantinople||Byzantine Empire||1453||Ottoman Turks||After the Fall of Constantinople, hundreds upon thousands of manuscripts were removed, sold, or destroyed from Constantinople's libraries.|
|Madrassah Library||Granada||Crown of Castile||1499||Cardinal Cisneros||The library was ransacked by troops of Cardinal Cisneros in late 1499, the books were taken to the Plaza Bib-Rambla, where they were burned.|
|Bibliotheca Corviniana||Ofen||Ottoman Empire||1526||Ottoman Turks||Library was destroyed by Ottomans.|
|Glasney College||Penryn, Cornwall||England||1548||Royal officials||The smashing and looting of the Cornish colleges at Glasney and Crantock brought an end to the formal scholarship which had helped to sustain the Cornish language and the Cornish cultural identity.|
|Maya codices of the Yucatán||Maní, Yucatán||Mexico and Guatemala||1562-07-12||Diego de Landa||Bishop De Landa, a Franciscan monk and conquistador during the Spanish conquest of Yucatán, wrote: "We found a large number of books in these characters and, as they contained nothing in which were not to be seen as superstition and lies of the devil, we burned them all, which they (the Maya) regretted to an amazing degree, and which caused them much affliction." Only three extant codices are widely considered unquestionably authentic.|
|Raglan Library||Raglan Castle||Wales||1646||Parliamentary Army||The Earl of Worcester's library was burnt during the English Civil War by forces under the command of Thomas Fairfax|
|Library of Congress||Washington, D.C.||United States||1814||Troops of the British Army||The library was destroyed during the War of 1812 when British forces set fire to the U.S. Capitol during the Burning of Washington.|
|University of Alabama||Tuscaloosa, Alabama||United States||1865-05-04||Troops of the Union Army||During the American Civil War, Union troops destroyed most buildings on the University of Alabama campus, including its library of approximately 7,000 volumes.|
|Royal library of the Kings of Burma||Mandalay Palace||Burma||1885 – 1887||Troops of the British Army||The British looted the palace at the end of the 3rd Anglo-Burmese War (some of the artefacts which were taken away are still on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London) and burned down the royal library.|
|Hanlin Academy Library||Hanlin Academy||China||1900-06-23/4||Disputed. Possibly the Kansu Braves besieging the west of the Legation Quarter, or possibly by the international defending forces.||During the Siege of the International Legations in Beijing at the height of the Boxer Rebellion, the unofficial national library of China at the Hanlin Academy, which was adjacent to the British Legation, was set on fire (by whom and whether deliberately or accidentally is still disputed) and almost entirely destroyed. Many of the books and scrolls that survived the flames were subsequently looted by forces of the victorious foreign powers.|
|Library of the Catholic University of Leuven||Leuven||Belgium||1914-08-25||German Occupation Troops||The Germans set the library on fire as part of the burning of the entire city in an attempt to use terror to quell Belgian resistance to occupation.|
|Public Records Office of Ireland||Dublin||Ireland||1922||Disputed. Poss. deliberately by Anti-Treaty IRA or accidental ignition of their stored explosives due to shelling by Provisional Government forces.||The Four Courts was occupied by the Anti-Treaty IRA at the start of the Irish Civil War. The building was bombarded by the Provisional Government forces under Michael Collins.|
|Institut für Sexualwissenschaft||Berlin||Nazi Germany||1933-05-??||Members of the Deutsche Studentenschaft||On 6 May 1933, the Deutsche Studentenschaft made an organised attack on the Institute of Sex Research. A few days later, the Institute's library and archives were publicly hauled out and burned in the streets of the Opernplatz.|
|National University of Tsing Hua, University Nan-k'ai, Institute of Technology of He-pei, Medical College of He-pei, Agricultural College of He-pei, University Ta Hsia, University Kuang Hua, National University of Hunan||China||1937 – 1945||World War II Japanese Troops||During World War II, Japanese military forces destroyed or partly destroyed numerous Chinese libraries, including libraries at the National University of Tsing Hua, Peking (lost 200,000 of 350,000 books), the University Nan-k'ai, T'ien-chin (totally destroyed, 224,000 books lost), Institute of Technology of He-pei, T'ien-chin (completely destroyed), Medical College of He-pei, Pao-ting (completely destroyed), Agricultural College of He-pei, Pao-ting (completely destroyed), University Ta Hsia, Shanghai (completely destroyed), University Kuang Hua, Shanghai (completely destroyed), National University of Hunan (completely destroyed).|
|Library of the Catholic University of Leuven||Leuven||Belgium||1940-05-??||German Occupation Troops||Caught fire during German invasion of Louvain, Belgium.|
|National Library of Serbia||Belgrade||Yugoslavia||1941-04-06||Nazi German Luftwaffe||Destroyed during the World War II bombing of Belgrade.|
|SS. Cyril and Methodius National Library||Sofia||Bulgaria||1943–1944||Allied bombing Allied air forces|
|Załuski Library||Warsaw||Poland||1944||Nazi German troops||The library was burned down during the Nazi suppression of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. The burning of this library was part of the general setting on fire of a large part of the city of Warsaw.|
|Lebanese National Library||Beirut||Lebanon||1975||Lebanese Civil War||The 1975 war fighting began in Beirut's downtown where the National Library was located. During the war years, the library suffered significant damage. According to some sources, 1200 of most precious manuscripts disappeared, and no memory is left of the Library's organization and operational procedures of that time.|
|National Library of Cambodia||Phnom Penh||Cambodia||1976 – 1979||The Khmer Rouge||Burnt most of the books and all bibliographical records. Only 20% of materials survived.|
|Jaffna Public Library||Jaffna||Sri Lanka||1981-05-??||Plainclothes police officers and others||In May 1981 a mob composed of thugs and plainclothes police officers went on a rampage in minority Tamil-dominated northern Jaffna, and burned down the Jaffna Public Library. At least 95,000 volumes – the second largest library collection in South Asia – were destroyed.|
|Sikh Reference Library||Punjab||India||1984-06-07||Troops acting under Indira Gandhi's orders||Before its destruction, the library contained rare books and handwritten manuscripts on Sikh religion, history, and culture It could have been a desperate act on failure to locate letters or documents that could have implicated the then Indian government and its leader Indira Gandhi|
|!||Central University Library of Bucharest||Bucharest||Romania||1989-12-2?||Romanian Land Forces||Burnt down during the Romanian Revolution.|
|Oriental Institute in Sarajevo||Sarajevo||Bosnia and Herzegovina||1992-05-17||Bosnian Serb Army||Destroyed by the shellfire during the Siege of Sarajevo.|
|National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina||Sarajevo||Bosnia and Herzegovina||1992-08-25||Bosnian Serb Army||The library was completely destroyed during the Siege of Sarajevo.|
|Abkhazian Research Institute of History, Language and Literature & National Library of Abkhazia||Sukhumi||Abkhazia||1992-10-??||Georgian Armed Forces||Destroyed during the War in Abkhazia.|
|City library||Linköping||Sweden||1996-09-20||Lack of evidence for trial||After a year of repeated, minor arson attempts against an information bureau for immigrants located in the building, the library is eventually burnt down to the ground.|
|Pol-i-Khomri Public Library||Pol-i-Khomri||Afghanistan||1998||Taliban militia||It held 55,000 books and old manuscripts.|
|Iraq National Library and Archive, Al-Awqaf Library, Central Library of the University of Baghdad, Library of Bayt al-Hikma, Central Library of the University of Mosul and other libraries||Baghdad||Iraq||2003-04-??||Unknown members of the Bagdad population||Several libraries looted, set on fire, damaged and destroyed in various degrees during the 2003 Iraq War.|
|Egyptian Scientific Institute||Cairo||Egypt||2011-12-??||A first estimate says that only 30,000 volumes have been saved of a total of 200,000.|
|Ahmed Baba Institute (Timbuktu library)||Timbuktu||Mali||2013-01-28||Islamists militia||The library was burned down, it contained over 20,000 manuscripts with only a fraction of them having been scanned as of January 2013.Before and during the occupation, more than 300,000 Timbuktu Manuscripts from the Institute and from private libraries were saved and moved to more secure locations. |
|Libraries of Fisheries and Oceans Canada||Canada||2013||Government of Canada headed by prime minister Stephen Harper||Digitization effort to reduce the nine original libraries to seven and save $C443,000 annual cost. Only 5–6% of the material was digitized, and that scientific records and research created at a taxpayer cost of tens of millions of dollars was dumped, burned, and given away. Particularly noted are baseline data important to ecological research, and data from 19th century exploration.|
|Saeh Library||Tripoli||Lebanon||2014-01-03||Unknown||The Christian library was burned down, it contained over 80,000 manuscripts and books.|
|National Archives of Bosnia and Herzegovina (partially)||Sarajevo||Bosnia and Herzegovina||2014-02-07||Seven Bosnian rioters suspected of having started the fire; two (Salem Hatibović and Nihad Trnka) were arrested.
On 4 April 2014, Salem Hatibović and Nihad Trnka were released (although still under suspicion of terrorism), on conditions that they don't leave their places of residence and abstain from having any contact with each other. Both were also mandated to report to the police once every week.
|During the 2014 unrest in Bosnia and Herzegovina large amounts of historical documents were destroyed when sections of the Archives of Bosnia and Herzegovina, housed in the presidential building, were set on fire. Among the lost archival material were documents and gifts from the Ottoman period, original documents from the 1878–1918 Austro-Hungarian rule in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as documentations of the interwar period, the 1941–1945 rule of the Independent State of Croatia, papers from the following years, and about 15000 files from the 1996–2003 Human Rights Chamber for Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In the repositories that were burnt, about 60 percent of the material was lost, according to estimates by Šaban Zahirović, the head of the Archives.
|Mosul University libraries
and private libraries
|Mosul||Iraq||2014-12-??||Ongoing ISIS Book Burning||Book burning.|
|Libraries in Anbar Province||Anbar Province||Iraq||2014-12-??||Ongoing ISIS Book Burning||Book burning.|
|Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences (INION) (partially?)||Moscow||Russia||2015-01-29||Unknown.||Fire spread to 2000 m² in third Floor. Roof caved in. Additional water damage. Ambient temperature too high for self-freezing of damaged Works. Library contains 14 million books, including rare texts in ancient Slavic languages, documents from the League of Nations, UNESCO, and parliamentary reports from countries including the US dating back as far as 1789.|
|Mosul public library
(Central Public Library in Ninawa)
|Mosul||Iraq||2015-02-??||ISIS Book Burning||8,000 rare old books and manuscripts. Manuscripts from the 18th century, Syriac books printed in Iraq's first printing house in the 19th century, books from the Ottoman era, Iraqi newspapers from the early 20th century.|
|Image||Name of Library||City||Country||Date of Destruction||Causes and/or Account of Destruction|
|Library of Celsus||Ephesus||Roman Empire||262||262 Southwest Anatolia earthquake|
|Royal Library of Portugal, Ribeira Palace||Lisbon||Portugal||1755-11-01||Great Lisbon earthquake|
|Imperial University Library in Tokyo, Max Müller Library, Nishimura Library, Hoshino Library||Japan||1923-09-??||An earthquake and the following fires.|
|National Library of Nicaragua Rubén Darío||Nicaragua||1931, 1972||It was damaged in the 1931 earthquake. Another earthquake in 1972 caused damages; furthermore, it was looted.|
|Several libraries, archives, and museums||Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Thailand, Sri Lanka||2004-12-??||The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. See Library damage resulting from the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.|
|Image||Name of Library||City||Country||Date of Destruction||Account of Destruction|
|Library of Celsus||Ephesus||Turkey||262|
|University of Copenhagen Library||Copenhagen||Denmark||1728 October|
|Cotton Library||Huntingdon||United Kingdom||1731-10-23|
|Library of Congress||Washington, D.C.||United States||1814-08-25|
|Birmingham Central Library||Birmingham||United Kingdom||1879-01-11||A fire broke out behind a wooden partition serving as a temporary wall during building operations. The fire caused extensive damage, with only 1,000 volumes saved from a stock of 50,000.|
|University of Virginia Library||Charlottesville, Virginia||United States||1895-10-27|
|New York State Library||Albany, New York||United States||1911-03-29|
|Jewish Theological Seminary of America library||New York City||United States||1966-04-18||Jewish Theological Seminary library fire|
|Charles A. Halbert Public Library||Basseterre||Saint Kitts and Nevis||1982|
|Dalhousie University Law Library||Halifax, Nova Scotia||Canada||1985-08-16||A lightning strike caused a short in the electrical system which started a fire that destroyed the top floor of the building which housed the library.|
|Los Angeles Central Library||Los Angeles, California||United States||1986-04-29 & 1986-09-03|
|Academy of Sciences Library||Leningrad,||USSR||1988-04-14|
|Norwich Library –||Norwich, England||United Kingdom||1994-08-01|
|Iraq National Library||Baghdad||Iraq||2003-04-15|
|Duchess Anna Amalia Library||Weimar||Germany||2004-09-02|
|Glasgow School of Art, Rennie Mackintosh Library||Glasgow, Scotland||United Kingdom||2014-05-23|
|Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences (INION)||Moscow||Russia||2015-01-31|
|Mzuzu University Library||Mzuzu||Malawi||2015-12-18|
A fire that destroyed a public library in Northam, Devon, was thought to have been the work of an arsonist, but investigators have determined that a beam from a hands-free magnifier ignited leaflets, which fell onto a box of books. Flames destroyed 90 per cent of the collection.