Orientalist Library Resources in Germany: an introduction

by Hartmut-Ortwin Feistel

1. Due to the complicated political history of Germany, a centralized library [For a survey of the more recent history of the German libraries see Ladislaus Buzás: Deutsche Bibliotheksgeschichte der neuesten Zeit (1800-1945). - Wiesbaden, 1978. (Elemente des Buch- und Bibliothekswesens. 3.) Every two years, a directory of the German libraries and their senior staff is published: Jahrbuch der Deutschen Bibliotheken : Band 55. - Wiesbaden, 1993.] system has never developed; practically each state or principality had its own "national" library. Thus, a German "national library" (Deutsche Bücherei, Leipzig) was only created in 1912 on a private basis to collect the books produced (and donated – no legal deposit law covering the whole of Germany came into existence until after the second world war!) by German publishers. Earlier German publications are thus found only in other large libraries [See Horst Ernestus, Engelbert Plassmann: Libraries in the Federal Republic of Germany. - Second fully revised and enlarged edition of the work by Gisela von Busse and Horst Ernestus, translated by John S Andrews. - Wiesbaden, 1983.], which together with the Deutsche Bibliothek provide the services which in Great Britain the BL assures. In view of this situation, a cooperative collection plan has recently been implemented in an attempt belatedly to build up a complete retrospective coverage of German publications, in which five libraries are participating [Called in German Sammlung Deutscher Drucke or SDD for short. The first phase of these activities is financed by the Volkswagen Stiftung; their continuation will have to be borne by the libraries participating. The original project description, now modified, was published as Sammlung deutscher Drucke 1450-1912. Wolfsburg, 1989. – This project would seem to be similar to the Australian DNC plan.]. Each is responsible for specific time sections: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, München (1450-1600), Herzog-August-Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel (1601-1700), Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, Göttingen (1701-1800), Stadt- und Universitätsbibliothek, Frankfurt am Main (1801-1870), and Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (1871-1912), while the Deutsche Bibliothek (uniting Deutsche Bücherei, Leipzig, and Deutsche Bibliothek, Frankfurt) is to acquire missing publications from 1912 onwards.

2. To help research in Germany after the First World War, an agency was founded in 1920, called Notgemeinschaft der Deutschen Wissenschaft (Emergency Association for German Research). Right from the start, the importance of the libraries was seen, and the Notgemeinschaft helped libraries acquire foreign publications, which they could not afford on their own. After World War II, this organization was re-established (1949) and in 1951 took the name of Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation). "As an autonomous organisation of the German arts and sciences the DFG has not a hierarchical but democratic structure. It is not a public corporation or a state authority, but has rather the legal status of a registered association. Its members are the universities and comparable colleges, the academies of science and large research institutions."[ Libraries in the Federal Republic of Germany, page 22.] West Germany's federal structure effectively reinforces the decentralized nature of the German library system: responsibility for cultural and educational affairs rests with the individual states ("Länder"), which watch over this with great jealousy. Thus, no federal ministry for cultural affairs exists, and while a federal ministry for scientific research does exist, its functions are limited and rivalled by state ministries. The German Research Foundation therefore acts as a coordinating body through which federal financing for research projects and libraries is being channelled.

3. The research and teaching institutes ("Seminare"), which constitute a traditional German university, often have good and fairly large libraries, which are supported by the holdings of the university library. The institute libraries nowadays are no longer independent, as they were earlier, but are considered part of the central library, which often provides services for the institutes like centralized cataloguing. In this, the old universities in a way follow the example of universities newly founded in the sixties, which dispensed with institute libraries in favour of several branch libraries, eg for natural sciences, humanities, social studies. But obviously no single university library system can satisfy all needs, and the necessity for national backup collections in all fields was recognized. Given the historical and constitutional constraints, this task had to be handled by the German Research Foundation.

When trying to assure a reasonable coverage of foreign publications, the German Research Foundation was forced to make use of a great number of libraries. It assigned so-called "Sondersammelgebiete" (special collections) to those libraries which already before the war had strong holdings in certain fields (either in specific subjects or areas) and which had not suffered great losses to their pre-war holdings. These then received funding from the DFG for the acquisition of foreign publications. Thus, in the Orientalist field for instance, Tübingen was selected partly for its very good collections of Near Eastern and South Asian materials, but also because the Berlin library had been split into two and had lost much of its original language materials during the war.

4. This special collections scheme continues to this day, with libraries having to cover 20 percent of the cost of foreign publications as well as promising to acquire all relevant materials from Germany at their own cost. Libraries have, of course, also to foot the bill for all personnel, hardware and related costs, though again funding for special projects can sometimes be granted. This shared financing can be quite problematic for a smallish university library with limited funds and a large and important special collection, especially in times of strained economies, and it has been known to spark quite savage infighting within the library.

In 1993 [Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft: Jahresbericht 1993. Band 1: Aufgaben und Ergebnisse. - Bonn, 1994. 234 sqq.], the German Research Foundation spent 28.238 Million DM on the support of libraries and collections, of which 13.932 Million went into the special collections programme (including the national central libraries for technology, agriculture and medicine and the special libraries, as well as exchange and document procurement programmes), 5.927 Million towards cataloguing of old and rare materials, 5.813 Million was used for national union catalogues and related projects, and the rest was spent on modernisation projects, conservation efforts and other comparatively minor tasks.

5. The list of regional and other special collections of Orientalist interest, as it now is being handled, is as follows:

6.20 Orientalist studies in general (Berlin, SBB)

6.21 Egyptology (Heidelberg, UB)

6.22 Ancient Near East (Tübingen, UB)

6.23 Near East and North Africa (Tübingen, UB)

6.231 Non-conventional materials from near East and North Africa (Hamburg, Deutsches Orientinstitut, Bibliothek)

6.24 South Asia (Tübingen, UB)

6.25 East and Southeast Asia (Berlin, SBB)

6.251 Non-conventional materials from South, South East and East Asia (Hamburg, Institut für Asienkunde)

6.26 Altaic and paleo-asiatic languages and literatures (Göttingen, UB)

6.31 Africa South of the Sahara (Frankfurt, StuUB)

6.311 Non-conventional materials from Africa (Hamburg, Institut für Afrikakunde)

6.32 Pacific Islands (Frankfurt, StuUB)

7.11 General and comparative linguistics (Frankfurt, StuUB)

7.12 General and comparative study of literatures (Frankfurt, StuUB)

7.6 Israel (Frankfurt, StuUB)

7.7 Judaism (Frankfurt, StuUB)

26 Foreign newspapers (Berlin, SBB)

27 Parliamentary papers and official publications (Berlin, SBB)

28,1 Topographic maps (Berlin, SBB)

6. Another project to ensure a good supply of research materials was the foundation of a national union catalogue of publications in Oriental languages in 1957 [Ewald Wagner: "Zentralkatalog der Orientalia" in: Zeitschrift für Bibliothekswesen und Bibliographie. 17,1. 18-25. 1970.]. Actually, there were to be two near-identical catalogues, one in the Deutsche Staatsbibliothek in Berlin (East), and one in the Oriental Institute of the university of Giessen. The latter was transferred to the Oriental Department of the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin (West) in 1968. It was and is a conventional card catalogue, to which all German libraries, big and small, were supposed to send copies of those new entries to their catalogues which contained Oriental language materials. As nowadays even small institute libraries are participating in regional on-line catalogues, this catalogue will most likely be discontinued in the near future. Unfortunately, at present the regional on-line catalogues mostly are not compatible, neither where hardware nor where software is concerned, so their utilization via networks poses problems.

The national database for periodicals ("Zeitschriftendatenbank") luckily does cover the whole of Germany. With its more than 710,000 titles of periodicals, including those in Oriental languages, and indicating more than 2.75 million holdings, it greatly improves access to periodical literature in German libraries.

7. The Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin [An exhaustive history with bibliographical notes was published for the 300th anniversary: Deutsche Staatsbibliothek 1661-1961. 1: Geschichte und Gegenwart. 2: Bibliographie. - Leipzig, 1961.More recent publications are: Kostbarkeiten der Deutschen Staatsbibliothek. Herausgegeben von Hans-Erich Teitge und Eva-Maria Stelzer. -Leipzig: Edition Leipzig, 1986. (This contains the chapter "Orientalistische Bibliothekare und Asien-Afrika-Abteilung" by Karl Schubarth-Engelschall.) 325 Jahre Staatsbibliothek in Berlin. Das Haus und seine Leute. - Wiesbaden, 1986. Jetzt wächst zusammen ... Eine Bibliothek überwindet die Teilung. Ausstellung Deutsche Staatsbibliothek / Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz, 11. November 1991 bis 11. Januar 1992. Berlin, 1991.] was founded in 1661 (following a decree of 1659, so sometimes this date is also used) as Churfürstliche Bibliothek zu Cölln an der Spree (Elector of Brandenburg's library). With the Elector's elevation to royal rank, in 1701 it became the Royal Library (Königliche Bibliothek), in 1918 it took the name of Preussische Staatsbibliothek, being split up after World War II (Öffentliche Wissenschaftliche Bibliothek, later Deutsche Staatsbibliothek in East Berlin, Unter den Linden; Westdeutsche Bibliothek, later Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz in Marburg and later in West Berlin, Potsdamer Strasse), to be reunited in 1992, now being called Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - Preussischer Kulturbesitz. This reunited library will have to use both buildings to house its holdings and handle the vastly increased number of readers.

Like probably all libraries arising from aristocratic collections of curios, the Berlin Library right from the start contained some Oriental materials, Hebrew manuscripts, Chinese prints and the like. But in addition to that, right from the beginning remarkable attention was given to extending [Thus it was the Grand Elector himself who arranged for the purchase of numerous Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Ethiopian, Koptic, Indian and Chinese manuscripts.] these holdings, especially of East Asian materials, stimulated by plans for an East-Indian trading company, not by missionary tendencies. It was the nineteenth century, when the library was buying major collections like those of Chambers, von Diez, Wetzstein, Petermann, Sprenger, Hamilton-Beckford, or Schoemann as well as making many individual acquisitions, both of printed books and of manuscripts, which saw the great expansion of materials produced in the countries of Asia and Africa as well as concerning them. The logical outcome of this development was the foundation in 1919 of a separate Oriental Department (then called Orientalische Abteilung), from which a separate East Asian Department was split off at a slightly later date. The first director of the Oriental Department was Gotthold Weil, who after his emigration in the early thirties to Israel was to become the first director of the Jewish National and University Library.

8. Like all holdings of the Preussische Staatsbibliothek, those in Oriental languages were hard hit by the war. The exact dimensions of these losses can only now be traced in detail. While we now can say that those collections which deal with "Länderkunde", that is all aspects of geography, history and culture of an area, of the Asian and African countries suffered comparatively few losses, the holdings in Oriental languages and literatures were devastated by the war. We still hope that some of this material will eventually surface in ex-East bloc countries, but until now this has not been the case.

In spite of this, the holdings of Orientalist literature in the Westdeutsche Bibliothek were important enough for the library to be assigned among others two specific regional special collections ("regionale Sondersammelgebiete"), Oriental studies in general (SSG 6.20), and Far East and South-East Asia (SSG 6.25). While the first of these mostly does not spend a great deal of money (it is there only to assure that publications which concern more than two regional special collections are really bought somewhere: in 1993 the acquisitions amounted to 180 bibliographical units for DM 17,145.00), the latter is larger and more expensive. Its main part obviously is the CJK [There is a sharing of responsibilities with the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich, which collects the older materials, spending about DM 500,000.00 annually on this, while Berlin emphasizes the twentieth century and current acquisitions.] area. While the Japanese and Korean collections are important, ever since China opened up sufficiently to permit export of major parts of its book production it has been this part which has been especially emphasized, resulting in a nearly complete acquisition of Chinese publications allowed to be exported. The South-East Asia collection, which was my responsibility for about 15 years, suffered in comparison from being on the one hand just a one-person operation, on the other hand from the fact that apart from Malaysia, Singapore and (at least partially) Indonesia no reliable bookselling infrastructure existed. Besides, for many years hardly any acquisitions from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were possible. Even so, it on the whole is able to fulfil its purpose as a national back-up collection as well, with supplies now improving. In 1993, acquisitions for the SSG 6.25 totalled 22,047 bibliographical units, with DM 1,166,220.00 being spent.

Beside these two regional special collection, the Staatsbibliothek also holds responsibility for the special collections in non-German law, cartography, and foreign newspapers.

9. Some libraries of the former GDR have important old collections (though some were hard hit by war losses), for instance the Landesbibliothek Dresden, the university libraries in Halle, Leipzig, Rostock and Greifswald, or the research library at Gotha. Due to the lack of Western currencies, however, these libraries were mostly dependant on exchange projects and thus have on the whole rather haphazard collections where post World War II publications are concerned. For this reason it has hitherto been impossible to shift some special collections to them. They are now preoccupied with trying to build up their collections, both with regard to current publications and retrospective acquisitions. However, Orientalist studies quite understandably come fairly far down on the list. Thus, the Berlin Oriental Department has become in a way the "Landesbibliothek" for the new "Länder". Unfortunately, cuts in our library's budget have not allowed us to increase our collection activities in a way commensurate with this new task.

10. With regard to Oriental manuscripts, the situation is rather better than with the original language materials of the print collection. The major part of these were sent at a comparatively early date during World War II to the Abbey of Beuron, and after the war moved to Tübingen university library, where they formed the so called Tübinger Depot der Preussischen Staatsbibliothek, as it is well known from publications dating from this period. Another part eventually ended up in Marburg, having been moved there from places of safekeeping in disused salt mines, while about 1500 manuscripts remained in Berlin throughout the war. One major collection of Jaina manuscripts had stayed behind as Walther Schubring was working on a catalogue of these at the time; others, because they were too heavy to move [Specifically, two volumes of a Hebrew bible, originally from Erfurt, which weigh about 50 kilograms each; one of them was damaged during the war first by fire and then - even worse - by water and awaits restoration. They were exhibited for the first time in the exhibition Jüdische Lebenswelten in Berlin 1991 (exhibition catalogue entry 20:1/17).]; why the rest remained in Berlin is unknown. A certain number of manuscripts are known now to be in Kraków, in the Biblioteka Jagiello ska. A few manuscripts (now that we are working on a complete audit of the Oriental manuscripts we can really appreciate how - comparatively - few) must be considered destroyed.

The manuscript collections in the Oriental Department of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin now count about 40 000 volumes of Oriental manuscripts and blockprints as well as more than 130 000 films of Indian, Nepalese and Tibetan manuscripts filmed in Nepal by the Nepal German Manuscript Preservation Project. Additionally, we hold the administrative (conservation, restoration and utilization) responsibility for the Berlin Turfan collections, containing about 40 000 fragments of Central Asian manuscripts, primarily in Old Turkish, Middle Iranian, Sanskrit, Chinese, Tokharian, but also in Mongolian, Tibetan and some minor groups. It is in this function that we are actively participating in the International Dunhuang Project.

We were able to unite the two Berlin collections of Oriental manuscripts already in 1991 (thus before the libraries themselves became one), making it the first collection of dispersed materials of Prussian cultural heritage to be reunited (obviously except for losses and manuscripts known to be at the Kraków library). This made necessary new lists for auditing the collections, which we decided to produce on a micro computer by using a WordPerfect macro to write the lists. At the end of six months we thus had lists, giving information on the existence (or loss) with additional notes on the state of the manuscript, for about one third of our holdings. This was the moment when we decided that we had the raw material for a database for the administration of the Oriental manuscripts; having used WordPerfect, we decided to use DataPerfect to make optimum use of the preceding work. This database contains at present 8500 records of manuscripts, giving information on shelf number, title, script, language, printed catalogues, number of volumes, number of folios, films and / or fiches of the manuscript and contains a free text field of up to 64 KB length. Related records (called by DataPerfect a second "panel") in the database (of which there may be none or many for each manuscript) contain information on its use, giving the name of the reader, the date of his first appearence in the library, information on photographs, microfilms etc prepared, and listing possible publications. Of these user records there now exist 3098. As you will agree, it is quite important for the administration of a manuscript collection to keep this kind of information for a long time; it also often gives essential information for later users. However, for reasons of data protection this data base is accessible for the administrative purposes of the library only; the Federal German office for data protection has been duly notified of its existence.

11. Obviously, this database is not going to supersede the need for real catalogues for the Oriental manuscripts, and this is going to mean printed catalogues at least for some time to come. For our library, this task was begun in the second half of the last century by a remarkable effort. Between 1853 and 1899, twenty-two volumes of catalogues were published [Sanskrit and Prakrit manuscripts: four volumes by Albrecht Weber; Syriac manuscripts: two volumes by Eduard Sachau; Hebrew manuscripts: two volumes by Moritz Steinschneider; Ethiopian manuscripts: one volume by A. Dillmann; Armenian manuscripts: one volume, by N. Karamianz; Persian and Turkish manuscripts: one volume each, by Wilhelm Pertsch; and finally the incredible ten volume catalogue of Arabic manuscripts, by Wilhelm Ahlwardt. All volumes were published as parts of the Handschriften-Verzeichnisse der Königlichen Bibliothek zu Berlin.], describing at the end of the century a large percentage of the Oriental manuscripts holdings. However, for the next sixty years only one further catalogue of Berlin Oriental manuscripts was published [Walter Schubring: Die Jaina-Handschriften der Preussischen Staatsbibliothek. - Leipzig: Harrassowitz, 1944. (Verzeichnis der Handschriften im Deutschen Reich. 3,1,1.)], while at the same time numerous new Oriental manuscripts were acquired not only by the Berlin library, but also by other libraries in Germany. Therefore in 1957 the Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft (German Orientalist Society) proposed a union catalogue of Oriental manuscripts in all German libraries. The then director of the Oriental Department of the Westdeutsche Bibliothek (as mentioned above, one of the names of the West German successor to the Preussische Staatsbibliothek) Dr Wolfgang Voigt was asked to direct this project. He was succeeded by Dr Dieter George; at his untimely death in 1985 I had to take over this task together with the running of the Oriental Department. Until 1989, the project was financed by the German Research Foundation; in 1990 it was taken over by the Academy of Sciences at Göttingen. Today, 87 catalogues and 44 supplementary volumes have been published in the Verzeichnis der Orientalischen Handschriften in Deutschland (=VOHD) [Published by the Steiner-Verlag in Stuttgart.]. Even so, the new acquisitions of German libraries are still outrunning the best efforts in production of catalogues.

12. A major challenge, with which we have only just begun to grapple, is the changeover from microfilms and microfiches to scanned digitized images of our manuscripts, both for safeguarding and for the utilization by readers. I know you are farther along this road; for us it is only just opening up. Our attempts to interest a publisher in producing an interactive laser disc edition of the so-called Diez Albums (similar in content to the Hazine albums in Istanbul, and containing a great number of Mongolian, Timurid and later Persian miniatures and drawings) have so far failed. But apart from interactive discs, a simple digitized storage of some or all our manuscripts (and especially of the films of the Nepal project) would be ideal, assuring non-deteriorating storage and superior printer output.

However, no decision has as yet been made whether the Staatsbibliothek should acquire the technology for producing CD-ROMs for instance (the latest information we have is that hardware and software would cost about DM 30,000, about £ 13,000) or whether we should farm this out to commercial firms. Either way, it obviously would be costly. As an example we might take a project which we are just about to finish. We have been microfiching all our Indian (with the exception of palmleaf) and Persian manuscripts on behalf of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in Delhi. The total is going to be about 6000 manuscripts, resulting in more than 16,500 microfiches. With an average of about 100 pictures per fiche [Due to the constant factor of reduction on the one hand, and the different sizes of the manuscripts on the other, the number of pictures per fiche varies.], this means 1,650,000 photographs. Had we already been using digitized images, this would already give about 635 CD-ROMs [At an average of 250 KB per graphic image and an maximum of 650 MB per CD-ROM.] - for just a fraction of our holdings. Still, had the new technology been available when we began the project and could we have used it, the cost of materials would have been lower for the CD-ROMs by about 50 percent; how the overall cost would compare I have at present no idea.

National Council on Orientalist Library Resources
December, 1994