Ideas for Researching the Future and Education – The Fantastic Library of Wetzlar
As Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge for knowledge is limited.” At the Fantastic Library of Wetzlar imagination, i.e. fantasy, has merged with knowledge in such a fantastic way and has created an apparently unlimited treasure trove of ideas on the way we deal with literature and language.
A library specialising in fantasy literature
The Fantastic Library of Wetzlar, opened in 1989, collects everything that has ever been published in German in the realm of fantasy literature: science fiction, fantasy literature, classical fantasy, horror, utopian novels, fantastic journey and adventure novels, fairy tales, sagas, myths, not to mention all the secondary literature.
Alongside all the books the collection also includes dime novels, magazines as well as a wide range of specialist journals and fanzines. In the meantime the library, located in Wetzlar’s Turmstraße, has over 200,000 publications, making it the world’s largest library for fantasy literature that is open to the public.
A library as a centre for culture, research and education
Yet the Fantastic Library of Wetzlar, a foundation constituted under German civil law, does not see itself primarily as a mere repository for the gems of fantasy literature, even if these gems are thoroughly exploited by humanities and natural science experts from all over Europe at the Academy next door.
Under the management of Bettina Twrsnick, who has a Diplom degree in librarianship, and Thomas Le Blanc, who used to be a maths and physics teacher, the library has made a name for itself as a centre for culture, research and education. The generously appointed, representative building that houses the library in the historical old part of Wetzlar is ideal for holding all kinds of events: exhibitions and concerts, discussion evenings and readings, university seminars and workshops for schools.
At the same time the library conducts its own research projects – partly in cooperation with the nearby universities of Giessen and Marburg. For example, there is an interdisciplinary research project called “Future Life” that has set itself the goal of using literature as a fountain of knowledge in the quest for new technologies and product ideas. With the help of science-fiction literature new impetus is to be given to the way the natural sciences are approached. “The alternative ideas to be found in fantasy literature came about because, either knowingly or unknowingly, the people trying to devise new solutions ignored any limits,” explains project manager, Thomas Le Blanc.
A centre of excellence for the promotion of reading and language
For years the Fantastic Library has also been working intensively with schools and kindergartens. In 2001 the “Centre for Literature” was set up with this in mind - a centre of excellence for educational staff from schools, child day-care centres and libraries with the aim of promoting reading and language. The centre offers an in-service training program for teachers, educators, students, librarians and parents that changes every six months and has now become the largest provider of in-service training programs in the federal state of Hesse. Furthermore it organises among other things creative guided tours of the library, seminars for both slow learners and highly talented schoolchildren, as well as courses in creative writing.
“The ‘Centre for Literature’ has managed to make an impact on the current debate on education,” says Bettina Twrsnick proudly. “We are now deemed to be a respectable partner by academics as well as by people out there in the working world – for example, by the people working on Hesse’s educational reform, a state education plan for children aged between one and ten. With this in mind we have enlarged the Centre for Literature by adding a new department – the Forum for Language and Literacy.” She went on to say that Wetzlar’s expertise was also very much in demand when it came to multilingualism. “At the moment we are taking part in a federal initiative for the promotion of language among children under three years of age. We are able to provide child day-care centres with a highly flexible, promotional tool that was developed by Swiss linguistic researchers.”
The “Reading to Families” project
The “Reading to Families” project that was developed by the Centre for Literature and that in the meantime has been successfully operating in Wetzlar and its surrounding districts for the past six years has also been enthusiastically received way beyond the borders of Germany. This social prevention project provides one-year training courses for people who want to read to people. These “readers” are not only active in child day-care centres, libraries and community centres, but are also able to get through to the “hard-to-reach” lesser educated families and persuade them to let him or her read to them.
“No other project in Germany directly addresses the families themselves, establishing contact with the parents via the children,” explains Bettina Twrsnick. “We focus in particular on those parents who cannot be reached using the more conventional methods. The aim is to trigger some form of educational motivation in the parents so that they can support their children’s school careers and create better chances of them later having a better life – a more self-determined life in which they enjoy professional security and social protection.”
Despite their convincing ideas and excellent performance evaluation the “Centre for Literature” team is forever having to fight to get its projects financed – projects created in fact with sustainability in mind. This however seems to be the only limit that this wonderful merging of fantasy and knowledge in Wetzlar has come up against.
works as a free-lance publicist in Bonn.
Translation: Paul McCarthy
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
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