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.

The MPG has 71 libraries: 20 in the human sciences-related institutes; 26 on the chemistry, physics and technology end; and 25 in the biology and medicine facilities.  In total, there are almost 230 full-time librarians and library staff.  The humanities libraries have the bulk of the staff: 145 employees for an average of 7.3 staffers per library.

The annual budget for the library is €20m, with €9m just for electronic resources.  (Although I suppose that price will go down now that they’ve booted Springer.)  Weber said that there is no uniform library system and no union catalog.  Ines Saler added later that 31 of the MPG’s libraries have formed their own union to share resources, but this is far from a institition-wide union.   Not surprisingly, given their independence from each other, each institute has its own classification system.

Germany 102Now, let’s go back in time.  We visited the Institute for Comparative and International Private Law in Hamburg on October 6, 2007.  Dr. Holger Knudsen said that this location focused on private law, which includes estate law, family law, divorce law, etc.  Knudsen’s library tries to collect the legal code, the court decisions and a leading law journal from all the countries in the world.  He pointed out that this can be difficult in areas such as Africa, the former Soviet republics, and the Caribbean, where many of the countries have little to no legal publishing industry.

While many laws are online, there are judges who prefer a more official reference.  In addition, there are important nuances to law that make analysis and collection building difficult.  For example, in Pakistan, there are different laws based on one’s religion.

All told, Knudsen’s library has 480,000 volumes, with 10,000 added annually.  In addition, the library subscribes to 1,950 journals and law reviews.  He said that while the library is not open to the public, German attorneys can use a particular material if it is the only library that owns it.  In addition, attorneys can request copies of laws or journal articles for a moderate fee to cover duplication and shipping costs.

Okay, let’s push things forward.  We visited the Institute for Intellectual Property, Competition and Tax Law on October 10, 2007.  Ines Saler, the deputy head of the library, began her presentation by discussing the history of their facility.  It was founded in 1966 as an IP law research institute, but expanded into tax law in 2002.  In addition to research reports, the institute publishes one English and two German journals of legal analysis.  It was originally spread out over five locations, but moved into one building in 1999.

Ines animatedThe library employs 11.5 full-time employees.  It catalogs its materials based on a classification system the institute set up when it was founded.  The library was automated in 1992, but only added an electronic circulation system in 2004 after they upgraded their software.

As in Hamburg, the library tries to have as complete a collection of IP and tax law materials as possible.  Its collection totals 195,588 volumes in as many languages as possible.  It subscribes to 1,000 journals, and also has access to all the legal databases.

Saler said the library is working towards implementing an electronic information system that would include e-books, online publications, and a database of all the institute’s work topics to prevent duplicate research.

A quick administrative note: I will not be publishing anything on Christmas Eve, so the next Germany update will be on December 27.  It will be back in chronological order.


Sietmann, R. (2007). Max Planck Society terminates licensing contract with Springer publishing house. Heise Online.  Accessed 19 December 2007.