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Digital Libraries in Germany
There is a huge hidden potential right before our eyes

By Catharina Boss, Bremen Public Library

Libraries in Germany offer a variety of digital services. Academic libraries grant their university’s members access to a large number of online databases and publications, they offer courses focussing on information literacy, educate aspiring scientific writers about Open Access and licensing models, they get involved in research data management and digitisation projects. Public libraries also serve their communities well. Take my library, Bremen Public Library, for instance: patrons can borrow e-books and audiobooks in German and international languages, they can access national and international newspapers and magazines, take online courses from photography to coding to time management, they can listen to music, stream concerts, stream movies and download fact-checked data from a variety of databases. To put it briefly: our digital services rock!

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Europe and German libraries were forced to close, we quickly adapted to the situation and enhanced our portfolios. My library stocked up on digital media and, while we supported the community offline with a telephone service, we brainstormed how to digitise other services and events. We started offering online reading hours for children on YouTube, worked hard on invigorating our social media channels and experimented with podcasts and live events via Zoom. Checkouts via our digital libraries increased massively and slowly but steady more people joined our online events. However, I still felt like we only reached a small percentage of our actual community, only those who visit our house frequently.

Since I entered the library sector in 2017, I have been working with the public on an everyday basis. Through endless talks with patrons, I have come to understand that, while some of them strictly prefer printed media and on-site services, many are indeed open to using online services. I am observing a variety of obstacles, though:

  • A lot of patrons do not know about the range of digital library services
  • Many patrons also face problems using digital applications or devices
  • Only a handful of the digitally literate people are part of our digital community

Look around: millions of people follow artists and big companies on social media. Millions stream movies and music on Netflix and Spotify. Millions use Google and Wikipedia to find information. Even the biggest and most influential libraries in Germany, though, barely attract more than a few thousand followers online. Why?

Catharina Boss


I cannot help thinking that there is a huge hidden potential right before our eyes. Look around: millions of people follow artists and big companies on social media. Millions stream movies and music on Netflix and Spotify. Millions use Google and Wikipedia to find information. Even the biggest and most influential libraries in Germany, though, barely attract more than a few thousand followers online. Why? We are information professionals and guiding people to finding whatever they are looking for is one of our core competencies. Who is better suited to pick these people up where they stand than us? In my opinion we have to go on two missions: We should support our patrons in acquiring sufficient computer and digital literacy skills. And while we are at it, we should reach out to the world, promote ourselves better, draw attention to our great services, and foster engagement. What are we waiting for? Let us start building sustainable digital communities today!

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