Germany Parliamentary Library Study Tour 2007

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

Donna finally gets her lingonberry jam October 16, 2008

Donna and lingonberry jam

Donna and lingonberry jam

An addendum to the German Parliamentary Library Tour: Donna bought a jar of lingonberry jam in Berlin to bring home for a salmon recipe she makes. Unfortunately, she forgot to pack it in her checked luggage, and it was confiscated when she went through airport security. A couple of weeks ago, a group of German parliamentary librarians came to D.C. to visit, and they all brought Donna jars of lingonberry jam.


Libraryola Recaps from the Study Tour October 14, 2008

I originally wrote about my participation in the Germany Parliamentary Library Study Tour on my blog Libraryola.  I have republished the posts about the tour here.  The following is a list of the posts I’ve added to this blog:


Courts in Karlsruhe January 18, 2008

First off, a little bit of administrative stuff.  This is the last recap of my trip to Germany.  The next several posts will all be E-Gov Site Reviews.  I have 14 more states to cover, and I want to get them done as soon as possible.  After I finish the reviews, I will be going through and cleaning up my dataset, so expect to find old posts updated a bit during the last week in January.

Also, I am going to the SLA Leadership Summit next week, so I will not be posting anything between January 23-27.

Schloss fountainNow, onto Karlsruhe.

Karlsruhe is home to both the Federal Constitutional Court and the Federal Court of Justice.  We began our day at the former court, which is located near the Schloss Karlsruhe.  The town’s layout is interesting, by the way, because all the streets fan out from the central location, giving the city a half-circle shape.

Volker Pletternburg was our guide for the Constitutional Court.  He said the court has been located in Karlsruhe since 1951.  It had been moved from Leipzig following the division of Germany after the war.  The court was intentionally kept away from Bonn and Berlin to preserve judicial independence.

Pletternburg said that the court receives 6,000 petitions a year to hear cases.  The petitions come either from individuals who have constitutional complaints or from state governments whose laws may be violated by a federal law.

The court consists of 16 judges, who are divided into panels of eight people called senates.  The judges are elected by a committee in the Bundestag, which also sets the judges’ salaries.  Once judges have been put in a senate group, they stay with that group for the whole of their Constitutional Court career.

Originally, the first senate handled the citizens’ complaints and the second senate handled the states’ complaints, but Pletternburg said this has changed over the years.  All 16 justices meet at once only for administrative purposes or in the event that one senate’s decision from conflicts with one from the other senate.

The offices of the justices are in an adjacent building, with the so-called first senate on the first floor and the second senate on the second floor.  Each judge can have up to five staff members.  Their clerks must already be judges themselves, and many times are already well-known when they take the clerical position.  Serving as a clerk in the court is considered a career step.

Generally, hearings are not open to the public.  On rare occasions, both parties in a case may agree to hold their hearing in the public session room.  The public and the press are allowed to sit in, but no cameras are allowed.

Christine translating Colker PlettenbergPletternburg noted the eagle on the wall behind the judges’ seating area in the public session room.  “It looks kind of deranged,” he said.  It was modeled in such a way to show that the state does not have influence over the court’s decisions.  He mentioned that a well-known murder mystery novel in Germany features a scene where the eagle falls off the wall and kills a judge.

Anyway, for public hearings, the procedures are determined beforehand.  There is no time limit on speeches, and all of the judges can question lawyers on each side.  The seating is arranged by order of seniority.  There are chambers in the adjacent building for closed hearings.

After a decision is rendered, the justices decide on how the case law should be published.  The publishing staff of the court sends the decision to a publisher for the case reporter, but commercial publishers can also buy copies of decisions from the judges for their own use.  Also, judges may or may not allow the case to be published electronically, which can lead to some inconsistencies when trying to access decisions.

The main clientele for the library are the clerks of the justices, although some judges come by as well.  Clerks are taught how to use the library’s intranet page, which they usually access from their office.  The collection consists of public and constitutional law materials, as well as some non-legal literature dealing with government law and philosophy.  While the catalog is available electronically, they still have their card catalog as well.

The library has an annual budget of €500,000, and Pletternburg said that half of this goes to looseleaf filings.  In addition, each justice has their own office collection.  There is also a daily press review published by the library that covers news important to the court.

Periodicals on displayAfter lunch, we toured the Federal Court of Justice with Dietrich Pannier.  He said that here, unlike at the Constitutional Court, hearings are generally open to the public.  If both sides agree, cameras can be allowed into the court as well.  The court handles cases pertaining to civil and criminal law that have been appealed from lower courts.

Judges are selected to balance to court out geographically (in case there’s a lack of representation from, say, Hamburg) and to fill in topical areas that need coverage.  In a pinch, justices may be asked to switch expertise, going from civil law to commerical law.

The original courthouse was actually a manor built for a duke. It became a government building after WWI.  In 1950, it was turned into the courthouse. Pannier noted that the library used to be in the kitchen of the manor.  Since then, a number of new buildings have been built to modernize the court’s facilities.

In another difference from the Constitutional Court, the Court of Justice library is open to the public.  It consists of four floors, plus a basement for pre-WWII holdings.  After reunification, it was expected that the court was going to move to Leipzig.  The library modeled their cataloging system after the Leipzig courts’ system.  Surprisingly, said Pannier, the court stayed in Karlsruhe.

The main reference desk is not on the main floor, but on the first floor (in American terms, it’s not on the first floor, but on the second floor).  Pannier said that judges often make use of the reading room on the first floor, so it made sense to have the reference desk there as well.

Pannier said, “If I see five people here, I say, ‘Oh, it is crowded today.'”  He believes that internet usage has eaten into library usage, although he doesn’t see that is a big deal.  “Why should the judges come every day?” he asked, noting that they are already familiar with the print materials.  Moreover, the library’s website has a comprehensive collection of links to online German law materials.

The library budget has decreased €40,000 over the past couple of years, but Pannier indicated that he usually takes the initiative to streamline costs and the collection.  Regarding weeding, he said, “I will not ask anyone.  I will do it.”  He added, “I am paid well to decide for the library.  The judges are paid well to make judgments.”

With that visit, our trip to Germany came to an end.  As part of our agreement to participate, we had to submit a report on our experiences to to the Checkpoint Charlie Foundation, which provided funding for the tour.  You can read my report (with all its grammatical errors) on the Germany Study Tour website.


European Court of Human Rights January 14, 2008

Les 7 pétrifiésOur final stop on our trip, from a pure “no longer hauling our luggage to the train station” perspective, was Karlsruhe. However, we took off for Strasbourg, France the morning after we checked into our hotel.

Strasbourg is home to the European Parliament, where I and my wife and a large number of her professional peers were once trapped on one of the most horrific tours any of us had ever been on. Our guide did not speak English as well as he thought he did, and also he fancied himself quite the expert on European affairs. So, after a brief walk around the building, he brought us to one of the parliament’s conference rooms to sit down, and then he proceeded to lecture us for about 45 minutes on such issues facing the E.U. as Turkey and the former Yugloslavia republics.

Finally, he opened it up for questions, and you could hear people groan when someone raised his hand. This person asked, “What about Russia?” Our guide thought for a moment, then responded, “Well, the problem with Russia is it’s sooooo beeeeeeeg.” The crowd burst into laughter, which forced our guide to laugh, mainly because I don’t think he understood what was so funny, but didn’t want to feel left out.

Afterwards, we all went out to eat and, more specifically, to drink, and I almost killed myself trying to match the Finns in our group drink to drink. Otherwise, I absolutely love visiting Strasbourg and was thrilled to have another chance.

We began our day trip by visiting the European Court of Human Rights, located near the European Parliament. Our guide was the court’s head librarian Nora Binder, assisted by the deputy librarian Genevieve Woods.

The front of the court

The court is a part of the Council of Europe, which was founded in 1949 to protect human rights in post-World War II Europe. The European Convention on Human Rights was ratified by 12 countries in 1950, and has been enforced since 1953.

The court was created in 1959 to hear cases involving torture and the inhumane treatment of prisoners. The most common complaint to the court is the denial of the right to a fair hearing. The vast number of cases brought to the court are brought by individuals, but not all applications to the court will be heard. Anyone living in a country that have ratified the convention can petition the court. An application must be submitted within six months of the final hearing on one’s case in one’s home country, and all other legal options must be exhausted first. Events that occurred before a particular country ratified the convention are not covered.

Judgments are binding for any country that has ratified the convention, and these countries sometimes need to pass new legislation to prevent future offenses. A committee of ministers from the Council of Europe enforces judgments, and expulsion from the council is the ultimate punishment for violations.

HUDOC is the council’s database of judgments. The court defines the keywords utilized in the cases, while a committee of attorneys determine the importance of each case. A case can be rated from one to three, with one being a key, precedent setting case. The importance rating does not change.

Using the database can be a bit tricky because of how cases are translated. Cases are available in both French and English and even something as simple as a person’s name can require different spellings depending on the language.

Strasbourgh architectureHUDOC is updated daily, as soon after a judgment is rendered as possible. It has cases going back to the 1970s, but older cases are currently being retroactively added to the databases, with cases rated one being scanned in first. Earlier cases can be purchased through the court’s archive, who will scan in and email them to requesters. HUDOC documents are admissible in court.

The library is small, with not a lot of room for the expansion of the collection. In addition to space issues, budget constraints limit the access to more expensive databases. Half of the materials used at the court are borrowed through ILL, although the library itself does not send out materials through ILL. The materials in the in-house collection include human rights treatises and laws from 47 countries. There are presently two permanent librarians and four contractors.

The library is open to the public on an appointment basis. There is also a great deal of material available to the public on the library’s website. This includes a new acquisitions bulletin and scans of the covers of the latest periodicals. Manuals are also available, but for a fee. They also have full-text internal working papers on the convention, which is good for planning for trials by serving as a sort of legislative history.

After our tour, and lunch at the court’s cafeteria (where I totally got to speak in French, and didn’t even get accosted for doing so!), we took a boat tour of the city, then spent some time hanging out in the square around Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-Strasbourg.


Bavarian Parliament January 11, 2008

Kids learning about the LandtagOur final stop in Munich was the Bavarian Parliament (Bayerischer Landtag).  Upon arriving at the Maximilianeum, the building that houses the parliament, we met Dr. Markus Nadler, who gave us a tour of the library and the building.  First, we watched a video describing the legislative and electoral process in Bavaria.  Then Nadler gave us a brief history of the library and of the building.

The library was founded in 1819.  Its operations were suspended during the Nazi regime, and all its materials were sent to the state library.  Nadler said that not all of the titles were returned: before the war, the collection included 130,000 books, while the current count is 60,000.

The building was the brainchild of King Maximilian II of Bavaria, although he passed away before it was completed.  In addition to housing the parliament, the Maximilianeum is the home of the Maximilianeum Scholarship Foundation, which educates “talented Bavarian youths (of any social rank) to achieve that level of academic and spiritual education requisite for meeting the higher tasks of state service” (Bayerischer Landtag, 2004, p. 10).  In fact, the Foundation is the owner of the building.  The parliament only rents its space there.

Nadler said that the library weeds its collection as new titles comes in.  The same amount of books that are added are discardrf.  This is because of the limited amount of space in the library, but also because of the importance of having an up-to-date inventory. The collection includes materials about Bavarian history and culture.

Christine at the Landtag libraryThe library subscribes to 370 journals and newspapers from all parts of Bavarian.  Nadler said that the parliamentarians want to have the news from their respective homes.  The library also routes a list of the new books to the parliamentarians and their staff, who are the primary patrons of the library.  Outside users must apply for special permission to gain access.

There are five professional librarians on staff.  Nadler noted that some of the librarians can switch between tasks in the library, the archive and the documentation center.

In addition to housing the parliament and the Foundation, the Maximilianeum features a collection of paintings representing Bavarian history.  The building was an art gallery from its inception.  Seventeen paintings were destroyed during World War II.


Bayerischer Landtag. (2004). The Bavarian Landtag – State Parliament – and the Maximilianeum. Munich, Germany: The Landtag.  Accessed 11 January 2008.


Bavarian State Library January 9, 2008

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.


Saxony State Library December 31, 2007

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.