Saxony State Library

We began our last day in Dresden with a walking tour of the city. One of the things that our host Evelin Morgenstern pointed out to me was that because Dresden was part of East Germany, many of the people here did not grow up learning English. If they learned a second language, it was probably Russian.

After our walking tour, we headed to the Saxony State Library, which is on the campus of the Dresden University of Technology. Our guide, Manuela Queitsch, told us that the library was founded in 1556, but it has only been combined with the university library for about 10 years. The first part of our tour focused on the library’s digitization efforts. Queitsch said that the two main projects the library is working on are scans of books from the 16th and 17th century and the digitization of the Protocols of Saxony from 1919-1933 and 1945-1952. This latter project has received funding from the state parliament.

Digital scanningWe were shown the scanning equipment they are using to scan their books. All of the digital images are produced initially in TIFF format, then converted into JPG for storage on the library’s web server. Five people have been trained to use the scanner, which is a very expensive piece of machinery from Austria. As it turns out, Austrian companies seem to be leading the way in book digitization, as I’ll talk about later when I recap our visit to the Bavarian State Library.

While touring the library we visited with Dr. Georg Zimmerman, the professional cartographer who serves as the library’s map librarian. The library has 160,000 maps in their archive. They have been scanning 10-15 maps in a day at a level of 12,000,000 pixels to provide the richest amount of detail possible. They then integrated the maps with Google Maps to provide complex navigation of the maps.

After lunch, Queitsch took us to the Treasure Room of the library’s Buchmuseum. This featured some absolutely amazing artifacts, from a lecture written by Martin Luther to an Albrecht Dürer sketchbook to scores hand-written by Bach, Vivaldi, and Wagner. There were two items that Queitsch noted in particular. One was a Sachsenspiegel, or Saxony law book, from around the 13th or 14th century. She said that this was very rarely on display, but had been put out for a special exhibition.

The other key item, and clearly the one the library is most proud of, is the Mayan Codex. Queitsch said it bought in 1739 for very little money in a Vienna bookshop that clearly had no idea what it had. The codex is an important link to Mayan culture because the Spanish destroyed so much of it. Only two other codices have been found, in Paris and in Madrid. Queitsch said that this one is in the best condition. A facsimile was made in 1905.

During the bombing of Dresden, it was put with other treasures into the library’s cellar for protection. However, the cellar flooded while the treasures were in it. Fortunately, the codex was not seriously damaged. Queitsch said that it has not entirely been deciphered, but it contains information about astrology and agriculture.

After that, we had some time to shop before we headed off to the train station in two very full cabs (with two very disgruntled cab drivers who saw how much luggage we all had) to head to Munich.


Saxony Parliament

Jerry and KathedraleThus far in the Germany Parliamentary Library Study Tour, our group had been based in Berlin. I covered our day trip to Hamburg in the posts about the Parliament Library and the Max Planck Society.

We had October 7, 2007 to ourselves to explore Berlin. I visited Alexanderplatz, Prenzlauer Berg and Kreuzberg, then headed down to Lichterfelde to have dinner at the home of our host Evelin Morgenstern. There we met with Dr. Andrea Mehrländer of the Checkpoint Charlie Foundation (the organization that provided funding for the tour) and other Berlin-based librarians. We had dined with Mehrländer on our first night in Berlin, and she had apparently spent the whole week telling her colleagues that there was an American on the tour (i.e. me) that was willing to eat and actually enjoyed Berliner Eißbein.

On October 8, we entered what I will call the “really hectic” part of our trip. Here’s our schedule:

  • October 8: Train to Dresden in the morning;
  • October 9: Train to Munich via Nuremberg in the evening;
  • October 11: Train to Karlsruhe in the evening;
  • October 12: Day trip to Strasbourg via van.

Morgenstern described our itinerary to the clerk at the Hotel Martha-Hospiz, where we stayed in Dresden, and the clerk replied, “Only a German would plan such a trip.”

Our first official stop in Dresden was the Saxon Parliament (Sächsischer Landtag). After lunch in the parliament’s cafeteria (where librarian Imke Winter noted that the beer on tap wasn’t the local brew), we were given a tour of the building. The plenary chamber is a very slick, modern room, with seating areas that can be easily rearranged so that parliamentarians can be grouped by their respective parties.

Peter Meyer discusses Parliament

Our guide Hans-Peter Maier, the parliament’s press speaker, described the workings of the Landtag with a fair dose of cynicism. Actually, to say that he was a bit cynical is to say that Rachel Ray is a bit chipper. I guess part of the reason for his outlook comes from the fact that the National Democratic Party (NPD) holds eight seats in parliament. The NPD is the German far-right party whose platform consists of opposing immigration to Germany. It is described in Wikipedia as “a de facto neo-Nazi party” and in Encyclopædia Britannica “as neofascist in orientation.” Maier said that 2.3 million people in Saxony supports the NPD. He noted the irony of how much support an anti-foreigner party has in a German state that does not have a lot of immigrants.

Maier said that there are 124 members of parliament who each earn a €410,000 annual salary. They also receive an allowance to pay for such things as travel expenses and staff salaries. There are 400 staff members, most of whom work for the individual politicians. The Landtag has 140 permanent administrative staff members, which includes the library staff, the maintenance crew, and the stenographers. Meyer noted that the stenographers, who are often trained in Berlin instead of in Dresden, are able to accurately record the statements of 120 people speaking at once.

The electoral process in Saxony is a rather interesting process. By interesting, I mean “convoluted,” and if the following is confusing, I apologize. There are two elections. In the first, citizens vote for specific politicians. In the second, they vote for the number of seats a party can hold.

In the most recent election, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) received two less seats in the second vote than they had won in the first. In other words, there were 55 parliamentarians elected to hold 53 seats. To make up for the discrepancy, the largest opposition party (Die Linke or “the Left”) was given two additional seats. Because of this, the Grüne (Green) party fell below the five percent of the Landtag it needed to hold a front row seat, a very important place for the party leader in the Landtag. A special rule was enacted to allow them to keep the chair.

You can see the current make-up of the plenary chamber on the Landtag website, but I will warn you that you have to view it in Internet Explorer and make sure you have an .svg viewer to see it. (The print version also requires a special Firefox plug-in, which in this case doesn’t seem to exist.) The German Wikipedia page for the Landtag also has a graphical breakdown of the chamber, but it doesn’t capture the seating arrangements as well as the official site does.

Parlimentary seatingThe proceedings are overseen by a president of the parliament. The president is a current parliamentarian elected by the assembly. He or she does not have the power to cut off speeches. The amount of time each party is given to speak is alloted by a committee beforehand. If a parliamentarian wants to ask a question during another member’s speech, he or she must wait until called upon by the president to do so. Maier noted that more often than not, the “question” consists of a brief speech. When asked by the president what the question is, the response is usually, “Stimmen Sie zu?” (“Do you agree?”)

Maier said that e-government services are still in their nascent stages in Saxony. He added that a great deal of technology is available to parliament members, but it is not necessarily widely used. The sessions are taped and can be viewed on the Landtag website. The videos are provided to the library, but no one has determined yet what the library should do with them. Imke Winter gave us a brief tour of the library after our discussion in the plenary chamber.

UPDATED: I should note at this point that I will be updating these posts as I get notes from other people on the tour.  For example, I corrected the name of our guide in this post.


Germany.” (2007). Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Accessed December 27, 2007.

National Democratic Party of Germany.” (2007). Wikipedia. Accessed December 27, 2007.

Sächsischer Landtag.” (2007). Wikipedia (Deutsch). Accessed December 27, 2007.

Max Planck Society

Up until now, I have been posting my recaps of the Germany Parliamentary Library Study Tour in chronological order.  In this post, I am going to jump around a little bit.  The group visited two locations of the Max Planck Society (MPG – the “G” stands for “Gesellschaft”) during our trip, so I am going to combine both visits into one post.

Now, if the name of the Max Planck Society sounds familiar, you might have read a recent report about how it recently ended its contract with Springer for the publisher’s electronic journal service because it felt it was being overcharged for access.  MPG Vice President Kurt Mehlhorn said:

“Even at the very last minute the Springer publishing house had not been prepared to lower its inflated prices. The MPG therefore had had no other option but to terminate the contract.”

I wonder what Elsevier thinks about this.

Anyway, while in Hamburg, we met with Dr. Holger Knudsen, the library director at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law.  Later, in Munich, we met with Dr. Peter Weber and Ines Saler of the library at the Max Planck Institute for Intellectual Property, Competition and Tax Law.

Dr. WeberWeber, the head of the library, began our meeting in Munich with an overview of the MPG and its place in what he referred to as the German research landscape.  The Society is comprised of 80 institutes spread out over Germany (with one Dutch and two Italian locations).  It primarily focuses on science and technology research, but it also has institutes focusing on law and other humanities-related projects.  Each institute is run independently and determines its own research topics and research projects.

Weber said that the institutes are built around the topics its researchers set rather than having a set topic and adding researchers interested in that topic.  This means that the focus of an institute can change as new members are added.  He gave as an example the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, which was originally the Institute for History until March of 2007.

For more about the Society and its history, check out the MPG Wikipedia entry, which I can confirm with my own notes is accurate.

Continue reading “Max Planck Society”

Hamburg Parliament Library

Germany 013The Hamburg Rathaus (meaning City Hall), where the state parliament meets and the parliamentary library is housed, is all sorts of spectacular.

And as spectacular as it was on the outside, it’s just as spectacular on the inside.

I could take up a lot of space just posting photos of the Rathaus, actually, but I won’t, because we’re here to talk about the library.

Our tour mate Dr. Christine Wellems, the head of the Parlamentarische Informationsdienste (Parliamentary Information Service), began our day with a history of the city and its government. Hamburg was established in the fifth century, and it was granted a city charter by Frederick Barbarossa in 1189. The charter granted the city the freedom to have its own government and administration and the right to trade. The city featured a waterway to the North Sea, which made it a key European port.

UPDATED: Wellems has corrected this article.  The following paragraph has been rewritten, and the corrections in the paragraphs after are noted with underlines.

In 1859, the first elections for the state parliament (the Bürgerschaft) was held. Before then, only rich residents of the state served as unelected parliamentarians.  However, it was only after 1919 that all residents of Hamburg, regardless of gender or economic status, were given the right to vote.

During the Nazi era, the government was dissolved to consolidate federal power. In 1946, the first post-war parliament in Hamburg was set up with 81 members named by the British military government (called the Ernannte Buergerschaft). The first elected parliament was voted into office at the end of 1946.

The Rathaus houses both the state parliament and the state government (the Senat). The library serves the Bürgerschaft, the Senat and their respective staffs. It is not open to the public, but does provide services to journalists and students.

Germany 010Among the services offered include reference, interlibrary loan, and a twice-daily press review. The morning review covers news about the Bürgerschaft in the regional newspapers, while the afternoon review encapsulates the national papers. Wellems said that Hamburg’s was the only state parliament library to provide a press service.

I should mention at this time that each of the 16 German states has its own parliamentary library. Wellems said that there are working groups for parliamentary librarians and for law librarians to discuss issues and swap information.

One of the items in the library collection is a book of meeting minutes from the 1600s, which Wellems was nice enough to pass around:

Germany 022

During our visit, we heard a presentation by Heike Lilie, the Juristin for the Bürgerschaft’s petitions committee (Sachbearbeiterin Eingabendienst). Lilie explained that any resident of Hamburg can petition the parliament. She said that half of 800 petitions filed each year deal with foreigners in extradition cases. There are no online submission services yet, so petitions must be submitted in writing. The parliament selects the 21-member committee at the start of each session, and it is the first of the parliament’s committees to be created.

For more detailed information about the petitions process, we’ve posted the text of Lilie’s presentation on the Parliamentary Study Tour blog.

After our meeting in the library, Wellums took us on a tour of the Rathaus. This gives me a chance to post one more photo from our visit. Because what’s a trip to Germany without Otto von Bismarck?

Germany 048

Heise Online – Max Planck Society terminates licensing contract with Springer publishing house

Max Planck Society terminates licensing contract with Springer publishing houseFollowing several fruitless rounds of talks the Max Planck Society (MPG) has, effective January 1, 2008, terminated the online contract with the Springer publishing house which for eight years now has given all institutes electronic access to some 1,200 scientific journals. The analysis of user statistics and comparisons with other important publishing houses had shown that Springer was charging twice the amount the MPG still considered justifiable for access to the journals, the Society declared. “And that ‘justifiable’ rate is still higher than comparable offers of other major publishing houses,” a spokesman of the Max Planck Digital Library told heise online.

heise online – Max Planck Society terminates licensing contract with Springer publishing house

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Germany 135Whoa, could it be…? Yes! It is a Germany recap!!!  Gott im Himmel, der Wahnsinn!!!

Because my fall semester at UMD is done (and because our individual reports are due soon to the Initiative Fortbildung), I am finally going to finish recapping the Germany Parliamentary Tour.  If you’re new to the site, here is a link to the earlier installments, as well as some background about the tour.

On October 5, 2007, we visited the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP), one of the pre-eminent think tanks in Germany.  Unfortunately, I accidentally threw away my notes in a fit of post-trip housecleaning.  Fortunately, Eileen Deegan, one of my fellow traveling mates (and DGI peers), was nice enough to let me borrow her notes so I could write this post.  I can’t thank her enough, as evidenced by the fact that I’m thanking her again here.

SWP Deputy Director Dr. Günther Maihold started off our visit by explaining the differences between American and German think tanks.  While American institutions operate independently of the government by accepting grants from private foundations, German institutions are funded by the government.   SWP receives €10 million annually from the Ministry of the Office of the Prime Minster. The theory there is that by receiving funding from the government, the think tanks are more independent from the interests of private donors.  In the U.S., this theory is reversed.

The primary function of SWP’s 50 researchers is to publish studies on foreign affairs.  Their reports are available to members of the Bundestag for six weeks before they are published.

Dr. Petra Galle, Deputy Head of Library and Information Services, next provided an overview of the institution’s library services and initiatives.  The library is only open to SWP’s staff and members of parliament.

One of the projects the library is involved with is World Affairs Online.  This database, which is the joint project with 13 other library and information services, is a bibliography of 700,000 articles from 1,000 foreign affairs publications.  Dr. Galle said that 26,000 citations are added annually, and that 20 percent of the citations link to full-text versions of the articles.

Another online initiative the SWP library is a partner in is Vascoda.  This resource is a specialized search engine linked to a number of scientific and scholarly catalogs, ranging from SWP to university libraries.  From Vascoda, users are able to download or order articles they come across in their search results.

Germany 136We then toured the SWP library with senior librarian Nele Morkel.  She told the group that the library employs eight full- or part-time staff.  Its collection includes between 60,000 and 70,000 monographs, including a large number of so-called “grey literature.”  The library also subscribes to 400 journals in print and online, and has access to LexisNexis and Factiva.  Researchers do not have direct access to these two databases, however.

Morkel said that she was “proud to say” that the library continues to purchase new books.  SWP’s management has never requested that the library cull its collection.  However, the library does not have a need to hold onto old journals.  It does have an interlibrary loan service.

The circulation process at the library still uses check-out cards.  Morkel said that they have yet to find an automation system that suits their needs.  She added that the continuing creation of electronic information has changed the way the library staff operates.