Within 20 minutes of the firefighter's arrival, they had the fire contained. A total of 40 firemen were called to the scene: 30 from four Athens-Clarke County stations and 10 from Oconee County and Winterville. Many of the windows on the second floor of the library were not designed to open, so firemen smashed them open to help disperse the smoke.
Smoke caused the most extensive damage to the library, with the duct system within the building delivering smoke to all levels, including the Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Library on the third floor. Though damages were originally estimated to be only $1.5 million, recovery efforts (such as replacing 70,000 new ceiling tiles, hundreds of light fixtures, rebinding nearly 13,000 volumes, and treating thousands of volumes and areas of the building for smoke damage) took more than a year and cost over $12 million.
Within a week, investigators ruled arson as the cause of the fire. In April, 2005, a homeless man seen at the library the day of the fire, went on trial for two charges of first-degree arson. His attorney claimed his confession had been coerced and that investigators had not proven who or even how the fire started. A jury of eight women and four men deliberated for eight hours over two days before finding the man not guilty. He was, however, banned from all campus properties for two years.
The 2003 fire was not the first to be experienced by University of Georgia libraries. Their original collection of books was destroyed by a fire in 1830, and was replaced with new volumes the following year. In 1902, when George Foster Peabody was given a tour of campus, he was alarmed to find the school's library in a wooden building, and told Chancellor Walter Barnard Hill to build a modern, brick building and send him the bill. In 1905, a new $50,000 library opened, and included new volumes also donated by George Foster Peabody. It is currently the Administration building after several decades as the Georgia Museum of Art.
By 1945, the library had 205,000 volumes and needed new space. In 1952, the library moved into its current home, the Ilah Dunlap Little Memorial library. It is known on campus as "the main library" to distinguish it from the separate science library on south campus, the law library next door, the Miller Learning Center next to the Tate Center, and the new Special Collections library currently under construction on Hull and Waddell Streets.
- Athens Banner-Herald, Jul. 16 - 31, 2003 on Microfilm in the Heritage collection.
- Athens Banner-Herald, Aug. 16 - 31, 2005 on Microfilm in the Heritage collection.
- A Walking Tour of the University of Georgia by F. N. Boney in the Heritage and general collection.
- A Pictorial History of the University of Georgia by F. N. Boney in the Heritage and general collection.
- Oconee Hill Cemetery, Athens, Georgia, Volume I by Charlotte Thomas Marshall in the Heritage and general collections.
- George Foster Peabody: Banker, Philanthropist, Publicist by Louise Ware in the Heritage collection.
- Blaze: The Forensics of Fire by Nicholas Faith in the general collection.
- The Library Speaking: Interviews with University Librarians by Guy Redvers Lyle in the Heritage collection.