The Library of the Ruhr in Bochum “The region's very own memory bank”

In the free-access area there are mainly scientific books and journals from the past 30 years.
In the free-access area there are mainly scientific books and journals from the past 30 years. | Photo (detail): Dietmar Bleidick

The historian, Dietmar Bleidick, has been using the Library of the Ruhr for nearly twenty years. Its collection focusing on the past and present of the Ruhr area is unique in Europe. That, however, is not the only reason why it is so very special.
 

It was back in the late 1980s that I first came into contact with the mining library as part of my history studies. Founded in 1859, it is the largest and oldest of the three libraries, which were later merged into the Library of the Ruhr. Even today I can still remember the first time I went there. In one fell swoop all the difficulties I had been having doing the research for a seminar paper vanished into thin air. The inspiring abundance of magazines and book collections available there was also a key factor in my decision to focus more on the history of the Ruhr area during my studies. This led to me doing a final thesis for an MA degree and a doctoral thesis on mining topics.
  The well-stocked handset of the reading room The well-stocked handset of the reading room | Photo (detail): Dietmar Bleidick When the Library of the Ruhr opened in the House of History in Bochum in 1999, I was one of the first users. It is something very special, a kind of memory bank of the Ruhr area. Its collections date back well into the 19th century. In Germany, and probably also in Europe, there is no other library with a better range of media and books on general social, technological and economic history, on national and international mining history, as well as on the history of social movements. That is why the library formed an important basis for my university teaching, my journalistic activities and my postdoctoral career.

Researching the old files – sometimes the better option despite digitalised search engines. Researching the old files – sometimes the better option despite digitalised search engines. | Photo (detail): Dietmar Bleidick Even today I am still one of the library's most frequent visitors, I go there about three times a month, and use several hundred books and other media every year. There are several reasons why I still prefer to do this work myself and not leave it to employees. On the one hand, it gives me the possibility of directly examining books and literature for essays, as well as journal articles, to see if they might be relevant and of conducting any accompanying research.

The lending desk at the entrance to the library – always time for a chat. The lending desk at the entrance to the library – always time for a chat. | Photo (detail): Dietmar Bleidick On the other hand, a library visit also means a break from sitting at my desk and the opportunity to talk to the  library staff, who are all very nice. In the entrance area, old printing presses recall what the building was used for in the past. They effectively complement the ambience of the former printworks – an atmosphere already characterized by the high ceiling and large windows.

The reading room, bathed in light, where books can be left on the desks for longer periods. The reading room, bathed in light, where books can be left on the desks for longer periods. | Photo (detail): Dietmar Bleidick The library has only a small free-access area, which connects directly to the lending desk on the ground floor and also extends to some rooms on the first floor. That is also where the  comprehensive magazine display is to be found. Usually, I order the articles I want to look at from the magazine via e-mail and then check them out in the large reading room.

DThe magazine display contains all the important copies from the scientific departments of the library and the Ruhr area. The magazine display contains all the important copies from the scientific departments of the library and the Ruhr area. | Photo (detail): Dietmar Bleidick Above all, what I mostly take out is literature. Is there anything that could be improved? I can only think of all the typical things library users complain about, such as extended opening hours and lending periods. There is, however, maybe one thing – rare and older magazine collections could be digitialised.

A library visit also means a break from sitting at the desk. A library visit also means a break from sitting at the desk. | Photo (detail): Dietmar Bleidick

The Library of the Ruhr in Bochum's House of History of the Ruhr Area came into being between 1995 and 1999 with the aim of securing and systematically collecting the literary legacy of the region. The mainstay of today's comprehensive media inventory, comprising approximately 500,000 items, is formed by three libraries: the Mining Library in Essen, founded back in 1859; the library of the Bochum-based Union of Miners and Power Station Workers and the library of the Institute for the Study of European Labour Movement that was formerly based at the Ruhr University in Bochum.