Near Odeonsplatz, the building of the Bavarian State Library, referred to in brief by Munich’s residents as the “StaBi,” stretches along the Ludwigstrasse. One bicycle after another is lined up along the 152-metre façade. Via a magnificent outdoor staircase, visitors enter the general reading room where the bicycles’ owners sit side by side at their studies, hunched over laptops or reference works.
Much-used reading rooms
“Unfortunately, the reading room is often filled to capacity”, says Peter Schnitzlein, the Bavarian State Library’s press officer. 550 seats are available to users, of whom 75 percent are students. In addition to use of the open-access library, Internet and data banks, visitors can obtain expert information. For Schnitzlein, the reading room’s lively utilisation is “living proof that libraries are indispensable in the digital age, as well”. According to Schnitzlein, people increasingly appreciate the library as a communication area that is more stimulating than working in isolation at home.
In its function as an archive library, the State Library pursues a cautious lending policy. Volumes over 100 years in age are not lent out at all. Users engaged in research have on-location access to the Aventinus Reading Room, the Reading Room Music, Maps and Images, and the East European, Oriental and Asian Reading Room. The Manuscripts and Old Prints Reading Room is the library’s most important specialised reading room.
Approximately 18,000 journal and magazine titles are available in the Periodicals Reading Room. The complete stocks encompass about 50,000 print and electronic magazines. After the British Library, the Bavarian State Library is Europe’s second largest magazine library.
Four central responsibilities
With its complete stocks soon to total over 10 million volumes, the Bavarian State Library is one of the most important European general libraries, with four central responsibilities. As an international research library, it responds to inquiries from everywhere in the world, and carries out four fifths of its acquisitions in foreign markets. “We collect everything – from all countries in all languages, with the exception of technology and agricultural sciences”, says Peter Schnitzlein. Furthermore, it is part of a virtual German national library. Due to its federal system, Germany has no central national library, unlike France or Great Britain, for instance. In addition, the Bavarian State Library’s position in Bavaria is that of the central state and archive library, and as overall authority serves as point of contact for libraries in Bavaria. Finally, it is an indispensable partner for Munich’s students and researchers in providing them with scientific and scholarly literature.
Treasures from around the world
Among the State Library’s greatest treasures are 93,000 manuscripts, about 20,00 incunabula from the beginnings of the art of printing, as well as the special collections’ stocks: precious musical scores and libretti, maps, atlases and extensive stocks of valuable texts from Eastern Europe, the Orient and East Asia.
The Bavarian State Library was founded in 1558 by Albrecht V, the Wittelsbach Duke of Bavaria. A bibliophile collector, he cultivated a passion for oriental writings – unusual in the Christian west of his times. The right to collect legal deposit copies, introduced in 1663 and the oldest law of this kind in Germany, resulted in the library’s continual growth. Today as well, all publishers in Bavaria send two copies of each new release to the State Library.
In the wake of secularisation and the dissolution of the monasteries, mountains of books landed in the State Library, among them valuable manuscripts. The representative building that Ludwig I had constructed beginning in 1832 to house the masses of books from the monasteries, still presents the Library’s employees with challenges, even today. After all, the building cannot compete with modern library buildings in terms of air-conditioning technology.
Meanwhile, the library extension built in the 1970’s can also no longer cope with the flood of books. About half of the stocks have been relocated to Garching near Munich. A book transport service travels the distance several times a day to deliver and return books that have been ordered.
The State Library established an Internet presence early on: the Digitalisation Centre opened in 1997. In cooperation with Google, the State Library has been continually making new, copyright-free works available on the Internet. “All copyright-free works are to be digitalised in a few years”, says Peter Schnitzlein. To date, about 350,000 volumes have already been placed at Internet users’ disposal – the largest digital stock nationwide. As for copyrighted stocks, the State Library is working with publishers on a project-by-project basis. For instance, in the project digi20
-century literature was made available online through licencing agreements.
As for technology, the State Library’s “greatest coup”, in Peter Schnitzlein’s words, has been the development, in cooperation with an Austrian firm, of a scanning robot. The State Library has put three of the robots, each costing 80,000 euros, to work. A prism runs up and down between the individual pages of a book, sucks in two pages at a time and scans them parallel. About 1000 pages per hour can be scanned in this way. On the other hand, very old and valuable volumes are still carefully digitalised by hand, requiring two or three days per book.
Although for reasons of conservation, originals can be made available for research purposes or exhibitions only every five years, users can now not just look at the digital versions of these treasures of the world of books from the Gutenberg Bible to Wolfram von Eschenbach’s “Parzival” in the Internet, they can now also take them along everywhere – with an iPhone or iPad application.