Germany Parliamentary Library Study Tour 2007

A blog for attendees and those interested in learning more about the study tour.

Bundestag October 5, 2007

The Holocaust memorial from aboveI began yesterday by walking over to the Holocaust Memorial, which is next door to our hotel. The museum portion, which is underneath the memorial, was not open when I went there. Without the full context, I am assuming that the “entrance” to the memorial is on the right side, near the entrance to the museum. If you go through the photos I took, you can see that as you reach the center of the memorial, you are amongst the tallest of the stone monuments at the lowest point of the grounds, in the lowest point of Germany during World War II. As you come to the other end, as the monuments get smaller, trees are interspersed with the stones, representing new life after the destruction of war.

I’m hoping I read that right. I suppose it could work the other way, where you exit onto a strip mall featuring a tacky souvenir shop and a Dunkin Donuts, representing modernity taking over German life.

After this, I took a long walk around Berlin, going down Wilhelmstraße, across Leipzingerstraße going east, and up Friedrichstraße. (Don’t worry about knowing my route. It’s just that I’ll be damned if I’m going to write about a trip to Germany and not make use of the “ß.”) I found a Sparkasse ATM center, which had about 15 ATMs inside. I saw someone inside, so I pulled on the door and it wouldn’t open. I tried again, with the same result. I looked up and the guy inside mouthed the word “drücken.” In other words, “push.” I understand Germans can always spot the Americans.

Later, the tour group headed to the Bundestag. This time we went to the Marie-Elisabeth Lüders Building. This is the home to the library, the Parliamentary Archives, the Reference and Research Services, and the Press Documentation Division. The building is, both outside and inside, stark, sparse and imposing. Yet, and I may be biased when I say this, there is quite a bit of warmth went you enter the library. It is a round six-story structure inside the Lüders Building. There is plenty of room inside to spread out and study. It is sleek, yet inviting.

More of the Blue Ring

On the sixth floor of the library, you can fully see the blue neon art installation that lines the walls. It is by the Italian artist Maurizio Nannucci and it is called “Blue Ring.” The full quote spelled out in the piece is by Hannah Arendt: “Möglichkeit des Handelns unter Gleichen/Gleichheit ist denkbar als Möglichkeit des Handelns für die Freiheit.” (Liberty is conceivable as the possibility of action among equals/Equality is conceivable as the possibility of action for liberty.)

The tour of the library was sandwiched between presentations by representatives of the different divisions of the Library and Documentation Directorate (ID), part of Directorate I. The ID structure was outlined by the head of the directorate, Dr. Ines Mockenhaupt-Gordon, who said that the different directorates were recently reorganized by the higher ups in the Bundestag administration. While there were some confusing choices made, one upshot is that IT is in the same directorate as IT.

The head of the library, Ursula Freyschmidt, outlined the structure and function of the library. The staff is comprised of 85 members, and its collection includes 1.3 million volumes. The library has an annual budget of € 1.2 million, and I assume a good portion of that budget is spent on an increasing amount of electronic resources.

Freyschmidt said that the print collection includes fiction. The criteria for inclusion is simple: the author needs to have been recognized for one’s work with a major literary prize, or the author has to have written on political themes in one’s work.

The library’s intranet page includes a catalog that searches all of the library’s resources, rather than having separate databases for books and for electronic resources. Records for books cataloged before 1987 include an image of the original library cards. However, these titles cannot be searched by subject.

At this point, as I mentioned earlier, we went on the tour of the library. When we returned, Susanne Goldbecker, an information specialist, discussed the Subject and Speakers’ Indexes Division. This division catalogs and indexes all the plenary debates, bills, and all other publicly available parliamentary materials. They assign keywords based on the Parliamentary Thesaurus (PARTHES) to all the transcribed materials and compile them into the index that gives the division its name.

One of our tour members, Dr. Christine Wellems, the head of Hamburg’s Parliamentary Information Services, pointed out that the state parliaments use the keywords from PARTHES that are applicable to them. They add terms that are of particular importance (her example was terms related to beer production in Munich), and they omit terms that are not useful on a state level (such as foreign policy terms).

Goldbecker said that starting with the next electoral term, they will be publishing what she described as a “reduced” version of the print edition. Instead, the main focus will be on the electronic catalog, the Documentation and Information System for Parliamentary Materials (DIP). “Some favor this,” she said. “Some don’t.”

After a coffee break, Florian Merkel, another information specialist, presented on the Press Documentation Division. This division compiles information pertinent to the Bundestag from Germany’s 60 news sources. He said that on an average day, the 30 staff members add 800 articles to the Bundestag’s press archive. The articles are indexed using terms derived from the PARTHES.

The articles are either downloaded from electronic resources or clipped from newspapers and magazines and scanned into an electronic file. They used to do this with foreign news sources, but Merkel pointed out that the licensing fees became too expensive. Those sources are now tracked using Factiva.

The Press Documentation Division produces a daily “press folder” at 8:00a that includes the most important news items of the day. The review is grouped into three categories: news about the Bundestag, news about the political parties, and topical news. He stressed the importance of neutrality when compiling the news stories.

The division can set up subject-related searches whose results can be emailed to members of parliament or their staff. It also produces dossiers containing the best articles to sum up particular issues, such as the Sudan crisis or German environmental issues.

Finally, Dr. Doris Schawaller, head of Hotline W, presented on her division. Although Hotline W falls under Directorate W, Schwallaer was invited to speak by Ursula Freyschmidt because this division is the front line for research on behalf of the parliamentary members and their staff.

Hotline W is sort of like the Bundestag’s version of the Congressional Research Service. Schwaller described it is the place for parliamentary staff members to go to find specific information that they cannot find. While dossiers and information bulletins are compiled by the division, these are for internal use and not available to the public like CRS reports. However, there is a Research Services division that produces materials similar to CRS reports. Hotline W is the central register for these reports, even though Research Services is under a different directorate. This is a vestige from before the recent reorganization. (I have to admit this is a little confusing. I may do a little more research later to get clarify it.)

Schwaller said that Hotline W uses over 3000 national and international fee-based databases to do their research. The eight researchers in the division are specialists in searching these resources, which I’m sure is important when you consider how much you have to pay per search to do research in a lot of them. While they are all expert researchers, they are not specialists on any particular topic. They need to be generalists as each research question is fielded by the first person who answers the phone or reads the email. They do provide seminars on internet and database research to parliamentary staff members.

Racing EightsAfter the presentations, we walked to the Jakob Kaiser building for lunch. The art piece in the main all is by Christiane Möbus. “Racing Eights” consists of four crew boats, painted black, red, yellow and blue. Christine Wellems explained that the colors represent the German political parties and the European Union. The boats, which represent the river Spree that flows by the Bundestag buildings, slowly rise to and lower from the ceiling. This representative of ebb and flow of political fortunes.

Now, this post represents half of what we did on Thursday. More, much more, so much more to follow.

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