German Libraries: A Portrait - Hamburg

Wherever the User Is – The ZBW

Deutsche Zentralbibliothek für Wirtschaftswissenschaften; © ZBW/Lukas RothGerman National Library of Economics; © ZBW/Lukas RothThe German National Library of Economics - Leibniz Information Centre for Economics (ZBW) is the world’s largest specialised library in the field – and is being increasingly geared to the needs and communication behaviour of its users.


Sitting in the reading room, the desk full of specialist literature (for instance, on international monetary issues), and using every reading pause to enjoy the view over the Kiel Bay or the Inner Alster Lake in Hamburg: that is the pleasant workday of researchers and students who work at one of the two sites of the German National Library of Economics (Deutsche Zentralbibliothek für Wirtschaftswissenschaften / ZBW).

Klaus Tochtermann; © Sven WiedYet the ZBW is by no means resting on its laurels – which include holdings of 4.2 million media units as well as the pleasant local conditions. Under the direction of Professor Klaus Tochtermann, the library team is working with great élan on a reorientation of their tradition-rich institution. “We want to go where our users are”, says the ZBW Director. “That means we want to position ourselves in the social networks in Web 2.0 and become more visible there.”

Collection emphasis as a national literature provision system

German National Library of Economics; © ZBWThe ZBW was founded in 1919. Its task since then has been to provide researchers in the whole of Germany with information and literature on economics. As a specialist scientific library, the ZBW acquires not only economic, political and empirical literature from all over the world, but also so-called “grey literature” – for example, work and discussion papers, annual business reports and official publications.

A particular focus of the library, which is also a member of the Leibniz Association, is the publications of international economic organisations. For example, as European Documentation Centre, the ZBW receives all printed publications of the EU and its organs, and as depository library of the WTO, it collects all publications of the World Trade Organisation.

Researching with EconBiz, publishing with EconStor

EconBiz.de on IPad; © ZBW“Our long-standing tradition has made us today the world’s largest library in economics”, says Klaus Tochtermann, who has headed the ZBW since the summer of 2010. “But the only sense I see in having a lot of books is that they can be used”.

The vast holdings are available and usable through EconBiz.de, the central portal for finding all economics-related information. “EconBiz.de furnishes first of all access to our documents, but we also integrate the economic documents of other institutions. And we currently have a total of a hundred thousand Open Access documents available free of charge.”

Screenshot of EconBiz.de; © ZBWThe ZBW helps researchers not only with finding information. “We also provide services with which they can make their publications available and so visible worldwide. With EconStor we’ve set up a central publication server for this”, explains Tochtermann. Currently available there are over 25,000 documents, which can be further distributed over the international platforms SSRN (Social Science Research Network) and RePEc (Research Papers in Economics).

Positioning in the social networks

German National Library of Economics; © ZBW/Sönke WurrAnd how to proceed in future? “I hope we will become a comprehensive infrastructure facility for economics, which is no longer looked upon as merely a traditional library”, says Tochtermann.

“In ten years’ time I’d like to be able to offer, in addition to traditional library services, at least as many cutting-edge online services that will facilitate the daily work of economists – and delivered wherever people are.” That would be, for example, on StudiVZ and Facebook, the sites with the highest average session duration on the internet. “Much information is today exchanged over social networks, no longer on copiers in the library.”

Innovation through cooperation

German National Library of Economics; © ZBW/VorbeckIn order that products such as EconBiz and EconStor are developed in accordance with the needs of its users, the ZBW has invited them to join, for example, in an “Open Innovation Idea Competition”. “And we are one of the first libraries in Germany that has hired a community manager, who does nothing else but take care of our users on Web 2.0”, says Tochtermann.

Cooperation also plays an important role in the innovations. “On the one hand we cooperate with libraries so as to develop jointly the content of our holdings. On the other hand, we work closely with technology partners all over the world. We can’t be the first to build up the top technologies in all areas, but through cooperation with partners we can make their innovations useful for us too.”

Klaus Tochtermann is particularly proud “that our whole institution is supporting the developments in the new media world – that’s by no means a matter of course”. But it will probably not be long before it has become a matter of course that library users in Kiel and Hamburg are guided to the books they seek on the shelves of the ZBW over their iPhone.

Dagmar Giersberg
is a freelance journalist based in Bonn.

Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
May 2011

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