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What do we lose when we lose a library


You may find the abstract book of the conferen here.

A conference about the future challenges of libraries

9 - 10 - 11 September 2015

A collaboration of the University of Leuven, Goethe-Institut Brüssel & British Council Brussels

Location: KU Leuven, University Hall & University Library & Maria-Theresia College


To commemorate the centenary of the destruction of the Library in 1914, the Goethe-Institut Brüssel, the British Council Brussels and the University of Leuven (KU Leuven) are organising a three day international conference on the challenging topic: What do we lose when we lose a library?

The burning or destruction of books – and material heritage – is a symbol of so much more. What does a community lose, what does a city or country lose, when a library is turned to ashes? Examples come from all times and places. We can think for example of the destruction of a library in Alexandria in the far past, the demolition of a library of the Jesuits in China, the library fires in Leuven in 1914 and in 1940, the destruction of manuscripts in Chartres and Warsaw during the Second World War and the ruined libraries in Croatia and Sarajevo at the end of the 20th Century. The threat to the library in Timbuktu in 2012 and the very recent destruction of books and archives in Mosul, Aleppo and Sanaa complete this sad list. The worldwide protection of libraries will therefore stay one of the biggest challenges for the conservation and spread of knowledge.

For three days, more than thirty speakers from a range of countries will closely look into the historical facts, the methods and strategies on how threatened book collections can be protected. What are the traumas from the past? What can we learn from these for the future? How can libraries strengthen their position? How can they protect their collections? In addition, the conference will also explore the digital challenge for libraries.

Keynote speakers of the conference are: Abdel Kader Haidara, Mamma Haidara Library, Timbuktu, Mali / Aleida Assmann, University of Konstanz, Germany / David McKitterick, Trinity College, Cambridge, United Kingdom/ Ismet Ovcina, National and University library of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo / Michael F. Suarez S.J., Rare Book School, University of Virginia, United States/ Herbert Van de Sompel, Research Library of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, United States/ Father Justin, Saint Catherine's Monastery, Sinai, Egypt / Alan Kramer, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland / Emmanuelle Danchin, University of  Paris, IRICE, France / Stephan Roman, British Council, Regional Director, South Asia.

Guest of honour of the conference is Wolfgang Schivelbusch (1941), the first person to publish a detailed study of the destruction of the library of Leuven in 1914: Die Bibliothek von Löwen. Eine Episode aus der Zeit der Weltkriege (1988). He will attend the conference and speak during the public lecture with Aleida Assmann, from the Univerisity of Konstanz. (Simultaneous interpreting in English) 


Important deadlines

  • Monday January 5, 2015: Abstract submission opens
  • Monday January 26, 2015: Early bird registration opens
  • Monday March 16, 2015: Deadline abstract submission
  • Monday March 30, 2015: Abstract acceptance announced
  • Friday May 29, 2015: Deadline early bird registration
  • Monday August 31, 2015: Registrations closed


Conference Publication

The Proceedings of the LibConf2015 will be published in 2016 ( OA)


Background on the fire of the library in the Great War

100 years ago, during the Great War, in the night of 25-26 August 1914, soldiers set the fourteenth-century University Hall and its eighteenth-century library wing of the University of Leuven (Belgium) ablaze. This was part of The Sack of Louvain, which made a tremendous impression on international public opinion. There was no hesitation in denouncing this act with powerful words and historical comparisons. The plundering of Leuven could clearly be compared with the sacking of Rome in 1527 and the Leuven Library fire with that of Alexandria.

To commemorate the Anniversary of the  Library’s destruction, the Goethe-Institut Brüssel, the British Council, Brussels and the University of Leuven (KU Leuven) are organizing a three day international conference on the challenging topic: What do we lose when we lose a library? The fragility of libraries in their material and digital dimension remains, 100 year after the fire, one of the great challenges for the transmission of human knowledge. Repositories with books and data files all over the world are developing strategies and generating research to pass on library and archival materials. The three day conference in Leuven aims to create a platform for cutting edge research and disseminations of ideas in the field of library, information and knowledge preservation. Moreover, it aims to reflect on the importance and the value of the ‘library’ as an institution guaranteeing transmission of knowledge to the next generations.

A General Session on the conference theme What do we lose when we lose a library? and two Special Sessions: Library & Heritage and Library & Digital Challenge [working Titles] will shed light on the vision and approach on the past and the future of libraries. The conference is addressed to librarians and scientist as pioneers of organizing cultural memory via expertise and knowledge. The meeting intends to raise public consciousness concerning this important task of sharing collective and cultural memory, and to raise awareness concerning the challenges libraries face in performing this task. The international conference is hosted by the University of Leuven (KU Leuven)

Organisation board

Mel Collier, KU Leuven

Pierre Delsaerdt, University of Antwerp

Sonja Griegoschewki, Goethe-Institut Brüssel

Andrew Murray, British Council

Charles-Henri Nyns, UC Louvain

Hilde Van Kiel, KU Leuven

Garrelt Verhoeven, KU Leuven

Lieve Watteeuw, Chair, KU Leuven

Supporting Libraries and Institutions

  • Goethe-Institut Brüssel, Brussels
  • British Council, Brussels
  • British Library, London
  • Lambeth Palace Library, London
  • Trinity College, Cambridge
  • Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin
  • Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbuttel
  • Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, München
  • Library of Congress, Washington
  • Georg-August-Universität, Göttingen
  • University of Antwerp
  • Bibliothèque de l’Université catholique de Louvain
  • Flanders Heritage Library
  • Unesco Belgium
  • Trinity College Library, Dublin


KU Leuven organization

Central Library; University Archives; Tabularium; Art Collection
Maurits Sabbe Library, Faculty of Theology; Illuminare, Centre for the Study of Medieval Art; Digital Humanities Summer School, Faculty of Arts; Digital Lab




  • Last modified 16-09-2015