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Monday, 9 December, 2002, 14:33 GMT
Fire destroys librarian's work
Olga Franks
Olga Franks has been assessing the damage
A librarian who worked for 20 years on a collection of books and journals which was destroyed in Edinburgh's Old Town blaze has spoken of her "despair" at the loss.

Olga Franks is employed by the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh and has helped collate the department's artificial intelligence collection for two decades.

Books, journals and research papers, which were housed at 80 South Bridge, were completely destroyed when fire swept through Scotland's capital on Saturday night.

Fire scene
Many buildings were damaged in the fire
Ms Franks said: "I feel simply desperate. I was one of the original librarians in the department and I saw this work grow from the size of a cupboard to an immense library.

"It is still sinking in that all of this material has gone. I can't really put into words how that feels.

"We've been trying to assess today what happens next. We have been meeting with other librarians to work out the value of the collection.

"And the one comfort is that a number of publishers are now putting their work online."

The artificial intelligence collection was divided into three sections and contained some 5,000 books, 800 journals and 35,000 research papers published by the department.

New building

The library, which charted a 40-year history of the subject, became housed in 80 South Bridge in 1985.

The department has other buildings dotted about the city and has plans in the pipeline for a purpose-built structure in Crichton Street which will house all of its staff, students, research work and equipment.

Michael Fourman
Prof Fourman: "Temporary accommodation"
Department Professor Michael Fourman said those plans would now be brought forward, but completion would not be for some years yet.

He said: "We are confident of finding temporary accommodation in time for the new term which begins on January 6. This fortunately happened at the end of term, so most students were away or working from home."

Professor Fourman said department staff had been grateful to those who had offered to contribute their personal books and journals in an effort to rebuild the lost collection.

'Unique resource'

An official letter-writing appeal will be made to past students, academics and other educational institutions for help in rebuilding the resource.

Professor Fourman said: "The loss of the library is a hard one to take. It was unique, Edinburgh was the first to chart the history of the subject, from machine intelligence to cybernetics."

As well as the artificial intelligence library, the department, which brings together artificial intelligence, computer science and cognitive science, lost 150 work stations and other equipment worth more than 500,000.

The full extent of the damage is not yet clear but the cost of replacing the artificial intelligence library, which had no back-up system, was immeasurable, said Professor Fourman.

See also:

08 Dec 02 | Scotland
09 Dec 02 | Scotland
08 Dec 02 | Scotland
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