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Books, Beer, and Bibliotheken

Daniel Starr
March 4, 2015


View of the Medieval City of Halle from the rooftop of the Franke Foundation. All photographs by Daniel Starr

«I was fortunate to be chosen as one of eleven American librarians invited to join a study tour of libraries in the former East Germany, which took place at the beginning of December. The tour was sponsored by the Initiative for Continuing Education in Academic and Research-Oriented Special Libraries and Related Institutions (Initiative Fortbildung für wissenschaftliche Spezialbibliotheken und verwandte Einrichtungen e.V.), BI-International, and the Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Kunst- und Museumsbibliotheken (AKMB). I am envious that Germany has an organization whose purpose is continuing education for librarians!»

Reading room

The first stop was the Saxon State and University Library in Dresden (Sächsische Landesbibliothek – Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Dresden [SLUB]). SLUB is one of the largest and best endowed academic libraries in Germany, and serves as the university library of the Dresden University of Technology. At the same time it is the state library of Saxony and a major center for digitization.

Mayan scroll

We had a private tour of their Book Museum, which is literally inside a vault. The highlight of the collection is the Dresden Maya codex (shown above), one of only three Maya books to survive (the other two are in Madrid and Paris). Coming upon this key document for the decipherment of Maya hieroglyphs and for the study of astronomy and chronology of the Maya here was a surprise and a bit of a history lesson: Saxony was one of the wealthiest areas in Europe for eight hundred years because of its rich silver mines.

The next stop was The Art Library of the State Art Collections (Kunstbibliothek – Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden), which, of course, included coffee and the local Christmas treat of stollen. We quickly discovered that coffee was a major part of every visit.

Under construction

The next day we went to the medieval city of Halle for a tour of the University of Art and Design at Giebichenstein Castle (Burg Giebichenstein Kunsthochschule Halle). We started by seeing its new library under construction. Amazingly, the tour was without hard hats.

Book Art Curriculum

That was followed by a visit to meet the students of the Book Art Curriculum (Fachklasse Buchkunst) in their studios. These young artists are amazingly creative and also eloquent when discussing their work, and they're all fluent in English.

Francke Foundations

The Francke Foundations (Frankesche Stiftungen zu Halle) were founded by the theologian August Hermann Francke (1663–1727), and included an orphanage and a complete school system. The valuable collections of the library are on shelves arranged like backdrops in a Baroque theater.

cabinet of art and natural curiosities

The cabinet of art and natural curiosities, housed in the former orphanage, is the only complete surviving collection of curiosities in Europe.

Museum of Applied Arts

Later the same day we traveled to Leipzig. Our first stop was the Museum of Applied Arts (GRASSI Museum für Angewandte Kunst) and its library, which houses extensive special collections.

Then on to the Academy of Visual Arts (Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst), with its small library supporting the needs of staff and student body, and the Institute for Book Arts (Institut für Buchkunst) to see some of its many prize-winning publications.

German National Library

The German National Library (Deutsche Nationalbibliothek) was founded in 1912. It split in two during the Cold War period and now functions from two main branches: the original one in Leipzig, and the new one in Frankfurt am Main. It has grown from one magnificent building to a complex that includes three modern buildings.

German Museum of Books and Writing

The newest building, built in 2010, includes the German Museum of Books and Writing (Deutsches Buch- und Schriftmuseum), the oldest book-culture museum in the world.

Print shop

Our final stop was the Museum of the Printing Arts (Museum für Druckkunst Leipzig), where we saw demonstrations of typecasting and printing on some of their collection of one hundred working machines and presses.

And what about the beer?

Beer Hall

We had a group dinner with German colleagues at Auerbachs Keller—the second-oldest restaurant in Leipzig, dating from first half of the fifteenth century, and the first place Mephistopheles takes Faust on their travels in Goethe's Faust.

As this was a trip for librarians, I have to include an addendum on book trucks. I'm used to seeing the same basic styles in any American library I visit, perhaps because we all order them from the same vendors. Each library we visited seemed to have its own model, and the ones for special collections were particularly varied.

Book trucks

Daniel Starr

Daniel Starr is the associate chief librarian in the Thomas J. Watson Library.