Bavarian State Library

I’ve been sick the past couple of days, so I haven’t had the energy to do much other than correct previous posts about the DPMA and the Max Planck Society.  Today, I’m going to flood you with posts, though, starting with this recap of our visit to the Bavarian State Library.

Klaus Ceynowa and Stephen SchwarzOur tour was led by Dr. Klaus Ceynowa, the deputy director general of the library.  He began with a brief presentation, then we took a tour around the building.

The Bavarian State Library (BSB) was founded in 1558 and is the central state and archival library in Bavaria.  While it is not a university library per se, it does provide services to the academic institutions in Munich.   There are 680 employees at the library serving the public, including students and researchers from the city, the state and all over the world.

Their annual budget is €43 million, with 47.3 percent allotted to staff, 30.7 percent to media costs, eight percent to information technology, and 14 percent to operational costs.  The library has 9.25 million volumes, 91,000 manuscripts, 20,000 incunabula (pre-1501 printed documents), and 136,000 16th century imprints.  Ceynowa said that the incunabula collection is the best in the world, while the imprints collection is the best in Germany.

It has also the second largest periodicals collection in the world (after the British Library) with 50,000 print and electronic volumes.  The library processes 500,000 document deliveries a year.  Ceynowa said that ILL and document delivery requests have increased 143 percent in the past four years, partly because of budget cuts at university libraries.

In addition to its comprehensive humanities, social science and life sciences titles, the BSB has a number of special collections.  These include special subject collections funded by the German Research Association, a maps collection, and an East Asian materials collection.  Ceynowa said that the library has been the legal depositor of Bavaria since 1668.

Annually, there are one million visitors to the BSB, with 49,000 active users.  Ceynowa noted there has been a 114 percent increase in visits during the past four years.  In that time, loans increased 37 percent to 1.61 million.  The public is not allowed in the stacks, but instead request materials from the staff.  Books not kept in the seven floors of stacks are stored in one of two off-site satellites.  A patron can wait from three to four hours up to one to two days to receive titles to be delivered by the book truck that travels between the main building and the satellites.

Corner of griefDuring allied bombing in World War Two, 450,000 volumes and 85 percent of the library building was destroyed.  There was some recovery of materials lost, but the library maintains in the stacks a “corner of grief” featuring books that were damaged during the bombing campaign.

One of the BSB’s main foci is the digital preservation of materials.  The library is one of the partners in the Google digital scanning project, but this participation represents only a portion of its efforts.  The library established the Munich Digitization Center (MDZ) in 1997, one of two national digitization centers in Germany.  It is funded by the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft, the state of Bavaria, and the European Union.  The MDZ works closely with the other national center, the Göttinger Digitalisierungszentrum (GDZ) and the Leibniz-Rechenzentrum, and it consults with smaller libraries about digitization projects.

While the library has focused on specific digitization projects in the past, Ceynowa said that it is moving into more general scanning. The Google project involves one million copyright-free titles. Reps from the company originally requested access to all of the BSB’s books, which the library administration would not grant. After the publishers’ lawsuit against Google over the project, they agreed to only scan in the copyright-free materials.

Google digitizes the books in Munich, and it pays for almost all the costs to move and scan the books. The scans are integrated into Google Book Search, and the BSB gets copies of the electronic data for its own digital collection. The books Google are allowed access to range from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Titles after 1900 are generally copyrighted, although Ceynowa noted that the metadata from these books have been added to WorldCat.

The scanning of the 70,000 items of 16th century materials is now being done with scanner robot. At the time of our visit, the robot had only been at the MDZ for about 8-10 weeks. The BSB is the first library in Europe using this prototype, which was bought from a start-up company in Austria called Treventus Mechatronics. The advantage of the robot is that it scans two pages at once without fully opening up the book, which prevents cracking open old spines. The initial scan is in TIFF format, then the scan is converted to JPG for use on the server. Here is a brief video of the robot in action:

In addition to touring the digitization center, we visited the preservation department. There are 14 conservators in house, and each year, they and freelance conservators preserve 300 books. It takes three-four weeks to complete a book.

The department performs applied research into preservation techniques before integrating them into its regular processes. It’s sort of like Willy Wonka’s invention room with books instead of candy (and no butterscotch or buttergin running on the side there).

Among the materials being worked on while we visited were letters between Ludwig I of Bavaria and his mistress Lola Montez, as well as Greek book from the 15th century being restored for an upcoming exhibition.


Incunabulum.” (2008). Wikipedia. Accessed 9 January 2008.