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.