Armenia’s National Library may have sustained ‘irreparable damage’ to its digital archives in a fire, officials have warned. Library officials say they discovered the fire damage on 10 May but did not go public with the discovery until Thursday.
The cause of the fire, which occurred on 8–9 May, has yet to be determined.
The library began digitising its archives in 2013. It holds over 6 million items in its physical collection, only a portion have been digitised so far.
These archives included over 7,000 books that were composed of over 700,000 pages, as well as over 2 million pages from Armenian language periodicals from all over the world in both Eastern and Western Armenian, including many periodicals from the Armenian community that lived in the Ottoman Empire prior to the 1915 Armenian Genocide.
The library’s acting director, Hrach Saribekyan, told Arevelk that safety rules had been observed and that it was unclear to library officials what could have caused the fire.
He said that officials from the Ministry of Emergency Situations would begin an investigation within the coming days.
Deputy Minister of Education and Science Narine Khachaturyan told Arevelk that the ministry was waiting for the results of the investigation but that she believed some of the archives had been irreparably lost.
‘We are dealing with financial losses and years of lost work’, she said, adding that the original books, publications, and other documents that had been digitised remained intact and were not affected by the fire, so it would be possible, in time, to rebuild the entirety of the lost archive.
She added that arson has not been ruled out as a cause of the fire and that if there is a ‘human factor’ then ‘the culprits will be punished’.
The National Library’s digital archive has been an important bibliographic resource in Armenia, where the number of libraries has dwindled from 1,300 to as few as 200 since the collapse of the USSR.
Prior to the fire, the digitised archive of the National Library held materials not only from the library itself but from other libraries in the country as well, including 12 libraries in Armenia’s provinces.