William Cullen and Wartenweiler flooded overnight


FLOOD: Water damage caused part of the ceiling at Wartenweiler library to collapse. Flooding from open taps has closed Wartenweiler William Cullen library. Photo: Provided

FLOOD: Water damage caused part of the ceiling at Wartenweiler library to collapse. Flooding from open taps has closed Wartenweiler and William Cullen library.                                                        Photo: Provided

The Willam Cullen and Wartenweiler libraries were flooded overnight after bathroom taps were left open during the water outage yesterday.

Michele Pickover, the principle curator for the historical papers research archives, said that the staff arrived this morning to flooding on the third basement of the William Cullen library where the archives are kept. Not all the archives were affected but the extensive collection of press cuttings used by researchers was damaged by water.

The collection covers the periods from 1940 to 2000 and captures a lot of the South African history. They have been removed from the original holding area to be dried.

“In the event that they are too badly damaged we will have to try digitise them to make them useful still for researchers,” said Pickover. The Rivonia Trial documents, court papers from the trial of former president Nelson Mandela and others, are safe as they are kept in a separate location.

According to Pickover, the university will be providing dehumidifiers to help lessen the dampness and humidity in the basement. In the long run though the department is looking to move to a new building that will house the archives as the current one is not ideal.

William Cullen library was closed today on the advisement of Property and Infrastructure Management Division as they wanted to inspect the danger of water and electricity to the computers and equipment in the building.

Wartenweiler library was partly closed today. It had two of its floors affected by the flood and kept these blockaded as a safety precaution for the students. They are still in the process of assessing the extent of the damage said Paiki Muswazi, the deputy university librarian.

Both libraries will be open tomorrow.



The Cullen Talks


If the William Cullen library were a book its story would fill a thousand pages.

The Cullen, situated on east campus, is the oldest Wits library.  Its cornerstone was laid by the Governor General the Earl of Clarendon George Herbert Hyde Villiers.

Cullen library was originally situated in central Block until it was destroyed in a fire in 1931. It was rebuilt and relocated in 1934.

During its early years it was referred to as either “the library” or “the old library”. It was officially named the William Cullen Library in March 1974.

THE LEGENDARY “OLD LIBRARY”: The78 year old William Cullen library situated at the heart of Wits east campus.

Cullen’s unknown treasures

Pieces of South Africa’s history can be found throughout the library. Fragments of the Diaz Cross are stored in a replica of the Diaz Cross located in the library’s foyer. The Diaz or Padrão de São Gregório was first erected in Kwaaihoek by Bartholomew Diaz, the founder of the Cape.

The original handwritten documents that former President Nelson Mandela wrote during the Rivonia Trial along with the Gubbins Africana Collection are some of the many famous documents stored in
the library.

The spirits of Cullen

Michele Pickover, a curator of manuscripts in the Cullen research division for 25 years, said: “The Cullen’s purpose is to preserve and safe guard the country’s historical moments.”

Historical documents stored in the Cullen’s archives are occasionally put on display in the foyer. Pickover said these exhibitions help to enlighten the students and visitors about South Africa’s history.

The library’s staff have also contributed to its rich history. Percy Freer was the first librarian in the Cullen and was responsible for the rebuilding of the library after the fire. The library had made history in 1954 when Elizabeth Hartman was elected as head librarian. Hartmann had been the first female university librarian in South Africa.

Cullen library has become a site of interest to Wits students, international researchers and the general public. The library building is a piece of history itself since it has heritage status.