Friday, October 30, 2009

National Libraries: The German Library System

Germany has never officially possessed a cohesive National Library until 2006, when the German Government enacted the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek Gesetz (the German National Library Law). This executive order formally provided a guide for how a unified library system was to be established and maintained for all things written, spoken, or produced that was uniquely German.

The reason for such late organization of a nationalized German Library system has a lot to do with its own unique history. Germany has long been an association of a common language, but not ideology. At least 300 separate territories and principalities made up the German speaking portions of Europe from the time of the Roman Empire until 1871, when following the victory of the Franco-Prussian War, Wilhelm I was named Kaiser and Otto Von Bismarck his “Iron” Chancellor. This fragmentation of states made it increasingly difficult to over time, establish a stable system for a national library to form. Even after the creation of this so-called 2nd Reich (the first being the ill-conceived Holy Roman Empire in 798; the 3rd being the 12 year reign of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or Nazi’s from 1933-1945), the formation of a true National Library was rebuked by librarians themselves, fearing that a centralized National Library would diminish the significance of the already established and esteemed University libraries already holding the vast majority of material.

In 1991, after the reunification of East and West Germany, talk began again of the formation of a German National Library. Keeping in mind the problems of the past, a model was needed that would not only collect, archive and preserve the vast printed works that had been produced in Germany over the past thousand years, but also retain a connection with the universities by not depleting them of their treasures. The result came in the form of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Sammlung Deutscher Drucke (AG SDD), or translated as the “Working Collection of German Press”, based on Professor Bernhard Fabian of Münster’s book entitled Buch, Bibliothek und geisteswissenschaftliche Forschung (Göttingen 1983). In this preeminent book, Professor Fabian parcels out the responsibility of the cultural holdings of the German language to a consortium of libraries housed in the already established German University system.

The duties were split chronologically between five universities and a sixth newly formed national library which would house a collection of the modern era. According to the AGG SD website, the libraries are divided as such:

1450-1600 Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München: Founded in 1558 by Duke Albrecht Vth as the court library of the Wittelsbach family, the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek was assigned responsibility for the earliest phase of the program, the period of 1450-1600 as well as printed music until 1800. The library collects literature produced in a particularly pivotal phase; the onset of modern times in Europe.

1601-1700 Herzog August Bibliothek: The Herzog August Bibliothek is one of the oldest libraries in the world to have survived to the present day without sustaining any losses to its collections. Founded in 1572, it was the systematic collecting activity of Duke August the Younger (1579 - 1666) which led to the creation of one of the largest European libraries of its time comprising 135,000 valuable printed works and manuscripts. The seventeenth century saw the emergence of German as a European literary language and the vernacular started being used for areas of literature and science hitherto restricted to Latin. In the first half of the seventeenth century Germany began to successfully adapt the models provided by the European Renaissance, in the second half of the century a recognizably German Baroque culture developed.

1701–1800 Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen: After its founding in 1734, the State and University Library in Göttingen quickly developed into an important research library of the Enlightenment era. Through targeted funding, well-established international relationships and considerable expertise, it succeeded from the beginning in becoming a model instrument of research. In some respects, the 18th century, the Age of Enlightenment, was the period in which the roots for the development of our modern world were laid. In the period between 1700 and 1800 the belief gained acceptance that the world functions according to rationally perceptible laws and that man as a rational being can be educated to recognize and to shape his own world.

1801-1870 Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg Frankfurt am Main: In the 19th century there was an immense increase in the production of books. Mass production influenced the procedure for paper-making; since then the problem of deterioration of books through acidity has developed.

1871-1912 Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin- Preußischer Kulturbesitz: The Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin is in charge of the years 1871 to 1912 (for maps: 1801-1912; for musical scores: 1801-1945). Owing to the enormous book production of that time, the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin has to shoulder an enormous task - despite an apparently short period of coverage of less than half a century.

1913-present Die Deutsche Bibliothek: Fused from the libraries in Leibnitz, Frankfurt am main, and the Muzikarchiv Berlin, its task is to collect, permanently archive, comprehensively document and record bibliography without gap, all German and German language publications from 1913 on, including printed music after 1800, Germanica and translations of works in the German language published abroad as well as works by German emigrants that were edited between 1933 and 1945 and to make them available to the public.

Consider. According to the AG SDD website, the German National Library system “has shown that the idea of a decentralized, chronologically subdivided collection has worked very well. The coordinated acquisitions policies combine with modern information and communications technology to further the growth of a virtual national library.”

How would the German system work in the United States? Although we have the Library of Congress, it is not actually a National Library of “American” culture. Is there enough cultural hegemony in our country for a collection of all things American, or is this a form of cultural jingoism? The German system includes a music library. Should we incorporate music into a National Library of America and what kind of music? What other cultural media could be included?


Association of College and Resource Libraries (2009). Book Review, College and Research Libraries
March 1997, Vol. 58, No. 2. by Winfried Goedert, Fachhochschule Koeln, Koeln, Germany. Retrieved on October 24th, 2009 from

J BÖTTE GERD-. Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin, Germany

A virtual National Library for Germany –the SAMMLUNG DEUTSCHER DRUCKE [Collection of German Printed Works]. Retrieved on October 23rd, 2009 from

Bun­des­mi­nis­te­ri­um der Jus­tiz (2009). Gesetz über die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek. Retrieved on October 25th, 2009 from

Deutsche Nationalbibliothek(2009). The German National Library in brief. Retrieved on October 23rd, 2009 from

Arbeitsgemeinschaft Sammlung Deutscher Drucke (AG SDD) (2009). Retrieved on October 22nd, 2009 from


Florence said...

I like the idea of a decentralized, chronologically subdivided national library here in the US. The answer to the question, "is there enough cultural hegemony?" is probably up for grabs. The answer for me could be yes or no,depending on how we might approach the task of creating such a library.For the sake of brevity, I will explain one way which I do believe that a national library of the kind that exists in Germany could be established.

To be sure, what was considered "uniquely American" 100 years ago, is different from the concept we had of America 50 years ago, and certainly different from how we perceive that idea today. I believe that there is a homogenity, despite however many differences we all have in this country, which can be found at the core of something very American, and it's found in what we call "Americana." It might be interesting to have a national library in the US that explores the ideas of what the term American means and has meant throughout our history.

Amy Smola said...

Very interesting post and well-researched. As to the questions near the end about whether or not music should be a part a library... I say yes. Definitely. We think of libraries and we think of books and journals. But I believe music is definitely a media that should be cataloged and made available to people. Yes, there is a lot of music. But so too are there a lot of books. What kinds of music should be included? As much as possible! Can you imagine a place where you could go that would have almost any type of music, artist, style, etc that you want? Like iTunes but in person. What an amazing collection this could be.

kbankovich said...

Great post! I think a National Library of American Culture is a great idea. Granted, there are many different nationalities represented in the US, Americans do have some specific traditions, ideals, customs, and beliefs. Why not celebrate this? I do not feel that it would be a form of jingoism, (had to look up this definition). I also agree with Amy that music should be part of the library system. As for what kind...any culture that is represented here.

Wendy Schneider said...

In answer to your question about whether or not there should be music in a national library in America; there is. While doing some research because I thought it would be interesting to see if there were such a library I found that there is actually a music library within the Library of Congress. This music library is not only housed within the Library of Congress but it is a special library for patrons who are blind and physically handicapped. This library offers music services, catalogs, web-braille music, music circulars, college texts about music, piano and organ braille scores catalog and much more. If you would like to visit this site you can see everything they offer at

Bradley said...

Wendy, I apologize for not clarifying the question. Germany has a stand alone music archive that works as a triumvirate with the libraries in Frankfurt and Leipzig. These three work together as the "German National Library", (which is in name only as they deal with publications after 1913).
This music archive deals only with German music from German composers, or works in German from foreign composers (remember that Mozart was Austrian, BIG difference!)We have the Library of Congress which shares duties with the National Agriculture Library and the National Library of Medicine.
The fact that Germany has given the Muzikarchiv its own sovereignty says a lot for what they deem as important. The Library of Congress contains all musical forms from all over the world. They do focus on jazz and the Archive of Folk Culture which houses a true "American" music genre, but again this is a department within the music department within the Library of Congress.

Monica said...

"Is there enough cultural hegemony in our country for a collection of all things American, or is this a form of cultural jingoism?"

I think that a national library along the lines of what you've described in Germany would be a perfectly viable idea here in America. Examining the idea of "being American" seems like an incredibly arduous and confusing prospect, but certainly not one that I imagine would be construed as jingoistic.

Amy Alcenius said...

I would think the obvious answer to the "What kind of music would be included" would be Jazz. It is the only uniquely American art form, and has been so infulential in developing all forms of music since its start. Practically everything you hear on the radio has roots in Jazz! I'm not real sure if I could put my finger on anything else that would be considered an "American Culture" unless it's marching band...