The historical development of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin from a baroque "Fürstenbibliothek" (Elector's library) to one of the most important libraries of its kind in the German and European region can be divided into two great epochs:

From its foundation in 1661 to 1810 the library was first known as Churfürstliche Bibliothek zu Cölln an der Spree (Electoral Library at Cölln on the River Spree). As of 1701 it was known as the Königliche Bibliothek (Royal Library) and was the court library of the absolute ruler. The ruler regarded this institution as his own private library - accessible to the public -, he would ultimately decide on all important matters. The early development of the library's collection, therefore, always independent In this first phase the collection development was always depended on the interests and benevolence of the respective ruler. This caused the collection to be characterized by its discontinuity.

By 1810 the library had become independent from the ruler and became a part of the Prussian State administration - all this was closely connected to the newly founded University of Berlin. During this time the increasing growth of the holdings marked the start of the second epoch. From 1810 to around 1884 the library became the leading library of Prussia. From 1885/86 to the 1930s - since 1918 as Preußische Staatsbibliothek (Prussian State Library) - the library successfully grew into one of the most important academic libraries in the world.

National Socialism and World War II destroyed much of the library and its collections. The division of the library between East and West hindered its normal development for almost half a century. Up to the present day the Staatsbibliothek still has to deal with the consequences and endeavours to regain its role in providing the most modern services.

The Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz from 1661 until today

1661 - 1945

  • 1661 - Churfürstliche Bibliothek zu Cölln an der Spree - established in the apothecary wing of the palace
  • 1701 - Königliche Bibliothek -
  • 1784 - move into the newly constructed building Unter den Linden ("Kommode") 
  • 1914 - move into the newly constructed building opposite(now Unter den Linden 8)
  • 1918 - Preußische Staatsbibliothek
  • 1941 - 1945 - Transport of the holdings to 30 different places in the German Reich; library building badly damaged;
    after the end of the war the holdings remain in the respective occupation zones and in Poland

1946 - 1991 

Berlin (East), Unter den Linden
  • 1946 - Öffentliche Wissenschaftliche Bibliothek - Reopening of the building, Return of almost all holdings located in the Soviet occupation zone
  • 1954 - Deutsche Staatsbibliothek
  • 1990/91 - Deutsche Staatsbibliothek in der Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz
  • 1946 - 1947 - Transfer of the library holdings located in the American occupation zone
  • 1946 - Hessische Bibliothek
  • 1949 - Westdeutsche Bibliothek
  • 1962 - Staatsbibliothek der Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz
Universitätsbibliothek Tübingen
  • 1948 - Transfer of manuscripts and music material located in the French occupation zone
  • 1948 - 1968 - Tübinger Depot
Berlin (West)
  • 1964 - 1968 - Move of the holdings from Marburg and Tübingen to Berlin (West)
  • 1968 - 1991 - Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz
  • 1978 - Move into the newly constructed building Potsdamer Straße, bringing together of all holdings located in Berlin (West)

Since 1992

Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz, according to the Unification Treaty the Deutsche Staatsbibliothek in der Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz and the Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz are merged into one institution


1661 to 1810 - The Library of the Kings

In 1658 Frederick William of Brandenburg, the Great Elector, decreed to hand over the task of organizing and cataloguing his, up until then, private book collection to Johann Raue (1610 to 1679). In 1661 he opened up the library in the "Apothekerflügel" (Apothecary Wing) of his palace – the library had some restrictions but was open to the general public. The collection remained there for 120 years. By granting substantial financial means (ca. 325 thaler per year), the Great Elector showed that he did not consider the library to be a mere cultural showpiece. His intensive collection building benefited practically all subject areas, in particular materials relating to East Asia, which he specially funded (holdings in 1688: 20,600 volumes and 1,618 manuscripts).

Elector Frederick III (since 1701 King Frederick I in Prussia) more than doubled the holdings (50,000 volumes), extended the opening hours and in 1699 he was the first Prussian ruler to introduce the Brandenburg-Prussian legal deposit. After 1694 a sum of up to 500 thaler per year was granted for book acquisitions. The first major acquisition of a complete book collection was the private library of the minister Ezechiel von Spanheim (1629 to 1710).

In 1722, Frederick William I (the "Soldier King"), reduced the acquisitions budget and in 1735 he transferred valuable scientific publications to the Akademie der Wissenschaften (Academy of Sciences and Humanities).

At first Frederick the Great did not care very much about the library. In 1770 and later, however, he granted considerable funds – about 8,000 thaler per year – for library acquisitions, which he personally controlled. He preferred French language publications and was responsible for the acquisition of standard reference works covering all subjects. The acquisition of the library of the writer Quintus Icilius (known as Karl Theophilus Guichard, 1724 to 1775) was a valuable addition to the collection at the time. In the years 1775 to 1784 a new and separate building for the library was constructed at the west side of the Opernplatz. The name of the building was based on its architectural form – “Kommode” - chest of drawers. This building housed the library for more than 125 years (today part of the Humboldt University). In 1786 the holdings comprised 150,000 volumes, most of which were not catalogued.

Under Frederick‘s successors the librarians (especially since 1784 under Johann Erich Biester; 1749 to 1816) gained greater personal responsibility: they were now able to order books without the authorisation of the ruler, they brought together collections which had previously been kept separate and they arranged them in a systematic shelving. However, during these years the acquisitions budget was considerably smaller. From 1798 to 1810 the library was under the supervision of the Akademie der Wissenschaften, which transferred the largest part of its own book collection to the library.

1810 to 1945 - Rise and fragmentation

In the course of the Prussian Reform Movement Wilhelm v. Humboldt laid the foundations for the development of the Königliche Bibliothek (Royal Library) into a central library facility for Prussia. As a result, the library was no longer part of the Akademie der Wissenschaften (Academy of Sciences) and became an organisationally independent institution which was listed as a separate item in the state budget of 1810 and was attached to the department for culture and public education in the Ministry of the Interior. As of 1817 the library was a department of the Prussian Ministry for Ecclesiastical, Educational and Medical Affairs. The founding of the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in 1810 resulted in many new tasks for the Königliche Bibliothek. The rise of this university to the most important one of its kind in Germany with an exemplary role for education in all of Europe and North America, mainly succeeded because the library (a well functioning institution which was particularly rich in holdings) was present in the immediate vicinity. The Königliche Bibliothek remained the most important partner for the literature supply even decades after the establishment of a university library in 1831, initially with a close connection between the two libraries - on personal, organisational and structural levels.

With the appointment of Friedrich Wilken (1777 to 1840) in 1817 as head librarian as well as under his successors Georg Heinrich Pertz (in office from 1842 to 1873, since 1823 the first Head of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica; 1795 to 1876) and Richard Lepsius (in office since 1873; 1810 to 1884) the Königliche Bibliothek grew to become the most important and modern library of Prussia and (since 1871) of the German Reich. The regulations, which were formulated by Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768 to 1834) in 1813, reorganized the administration of the Königliche Bibliothek and introduced contemporary conditions of use; it became a model for many other Prussian library regulations.

A long-term systematic acquisition policy followed (budget doubled from 3,500 to 7,000 thaler), after the Königliche Bibliothek had become a budget item. This specific acquisition programme comprised all important new publications in sciences and art, and also the newly created specialist journals. The programme also included the implementation of the legal deposit act and the filling of gaps in the collections. Consequently the Königliche Bibliothek became a universal research library, with only a modest increase in staff numbers. The most important acquisitions of this era were the Diez Library (17,000 volumes, 836 manuscripts, notably Oriental items), the Nagler Collection (primarily older German literature and many manuscripts), the Méjan Collection (14,000 volumes, especially early prints) and the Meusebach Collection. By 1840 the holdings included 352,000 volumes and more than 6,000 manuscripts.

Notably during  the tenure of the famous egyptologist Richard Lepsius and his successors, the special collections of the library were were decidedly funded and expanded into major international research centres, later some were reorganized and merged, e.g.

The catalogue situation also experienced significant improvements: As early as 1811 the first alphabetical book catalogue was started (completed in 1827) and from 1842 to 1881 one of the most important cataloguing and classification systems of the 19th century with a role model function in German-speaking countries was created: the universal and hierarchically arranged Realkatalog. In principle until World War II, the catalogue, being complemented and partly enlarged, was decisive for the classification system and shelving of the collections.

The statute of 1885 stipulated that it was the task of the Königliche Bibliothek to acquire and make available: the German book production "as comprehensively as possible" and the foreign literature "adequately and selectively". Following the stipulations of the Statue, first August Wilmanns started (in office from 1886 to 1905; 1833 to 1917) and then later Adolf von Harnack (in office from 1905 to 1921; 1851 to 1930) reinforced the library’s development towards a modern universal academic research library and further enhanced its archival character. Basically, the aim was to create a universal academic “world library” comparable to those in London, Paris and Washington. In addition to the traditional collection areas, fiction, newspapers, and official publications were also acquired. However, neither Wilmanns nor Harnack had the idea to preserve the complete national literature. The acquisition budget had significantly increased, the compilation of an alphabetical card catalogue was underway and new regulations for the library’s “Conditions of Use” were issued.

Around the turn of the century the Königliche Bibliothek became the largest and most efficient library of the German language area. This was due to the size of its collections (1905: about 1.2 million volumes) and the number of readers. As a result of the influence of Friedrich Althoff (1839 to 1908), official of the Ministry of Culture and responsible for the universities, and the librarian Fritz Milkau (1859 to 1934), who later was appointed general director of the library, the library also became a centre for the organisation of supraregional joint library services:

  • Berliner Titeldrucke (since 1892; publication of the title records of the new acquisitions)
  • Auskunftsbüro der Deutschen Bibliotheken (1904) Information bureau of German libraries
  • Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (begun in 1904) Union catalogue of incunabula
  • Gesamt-Zeitschriftenverzeichnis (finished in 1914) Union catalogue of periodicals
  • Gesamtverzeichnis der ausländischen Zeitschriften (GAZ) 1914 - 1924 (finished in 1929) Union catalogue of foreign periodicals
  • Gesamtkatalog der Preußischen Bibliotheken / Deutscher Gesamtkatalog (begun in 1895/1935; unfinished) Union catalogue of Prussian libraries / German union catalogue

The construction of the new building at Unter den Linden (from 1903 to 1914), which was designed by the architect Ernst v. Ihne (1848 to 1917), marked the key moment of the library’s development before  World War I.

After 1918, the main focus for the acquisition department was to overcome the challenges and consequences brought by the war and inflation; this was possible especially due to the dedicated support of the Notgemeinschaft der deutschen Wissenschaft (Emergency Association of German Science; and since 1930 Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft - German Research Foundation). Up to the beginning of the war, under the library’s General Director Fritz Milkau (in office from 1921 to 1925) and Hugo Andreas Krüß (in office from 1925; 1879 to 1945), the Prussian State Library was able to restore its local and supraregional functionalities by means of considerable budget increases. In 1924 the library took over the task of a central office for the German inter-library lending service, and since 1937 also for international inter-library loans.

The time of National Socialism in Germany from 1933 to 1945 was extremely detrimental to the library – many employees were dismissed for political and racist reasons and heavy restrictions were imposed on the acquisition of foreign literature.

Holdings in 1939:

  • 3 million volumes of printed materials
  • 360,000 sheet music items
  • 7,400 incunabula
  • 72,000 western, oriental and music manuscripts, numerous personal papers of scholars and writers
  • 475,000 autographs (not including the Varnhagen collection)
  • 300,000 maps

since 1941: Evacuation of the holdings to protect them from war damage

In 1941, after the building of the Preußische Staatsbibliothek Unter den Linden had been hit by a bomb for the first time, the evacuation of the library’s holdings began. Gradually, the complete holdings of the largest academic library of the German Reich were evacuated to 30 locations – from the Swabian Alps to Pomerania - where they were stored in monasteries, mines, palaces and castles, in order to protect them from war damages like bomb hits, fires, water and looting.

When Germany surrendered on 8 May 1945, the building Unter den Linden was partially destroyed, its valuable holdings were scattered across the country, many staff members had either been killed or were displaced all over Germany - all this ultimately led to the end of the Prussian State Library. Along with the German Reich, the Prussian State (the main sponsor of the library) ceased to exist in 1945 and was officially dissolved in 1947.

1945 to 1990 - The Division of Germany in East and West

After 1945

After 1945, with the division of Germany along the established political blocs, two independent institutions emerged as the successors of the Preußische Staatsbibliothek. By 1990, the year of the German reunification, there were two established libraries Deutsche Staatsbibliothek in Berlin (East) and the Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz in Berlin (West).

First return of the collections

After the end of the war around 1.5 million volumes were returned to West Berlin and about 900,000 volumes were returned to East Berlin. The holdings in the territory of the Western allies came back to the divided city of Berlin and a considerable portion was recovered after 1945 from the Soviet occupation zone.

Due to the turmoil caused by the war 335,000 to 400,000 volumes are presumed destroyed – additionally 300,000 volumes are considered missing. These holdings, together with other comprehensive holdings, had been stored in eleven evacuation locations throughout the Eastern region of the German Reich. After 1945, books and special materials found undamaged were brought to libraries in Poland and the former Soviet Union, where they can still be found today.

Deutsche Staatsbibliothek (Berlin-Ost) - German State Library (Berlin East)

Names: Öffentliche Wissenschaftliche Bibliothek (1946 - 1954), Deutsche Staatsbibliothek (1954 - 1990), Deutsche Staatsbibliothek in der Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (1990/91)

Although the opulent Wilhelminian building of Unter den Linden was heavily damaged – among other things, the central domed reading room was unusable - and the holdings of the Preußische Staatsbibliothek were dispersed to many evacuation sites, the library opened in October 1946, under the direction of Rudolf Hoecker (in office from 1946 to 1950) as the Öffentliche Wissenschaftliche Bibliothek (Public Scientific Library).

The director and his library staff succeeded in returning all the holdings which had been evacuated to places in the Soviet occupation zone – unless they were destroyed or taken away by the victorious power as war loot. At the end of 1949 the holdings already comprised some 900,000 volumes.

In 1955, the restoration of the building was brought to a partial conclusion – the domed reading room remained a ruin in the centre of the building. Twenty years later, in 1975, the ruin was finally torn down – what remained was an architectural and functional 'hole'. At the beginning of the 1980s four stack towers were erected in place of the 'hole' to solve the most urgent space and storage problems. The towers have since been torn down.

Further repatriations of the evacuated holdings of the Preußische Staatsbibliothek, particularly of print volumes and manuscripts, took place with the transfer of valuable holdings by the Soviet Union in 1957. In 1965 some 90,000 scientific and technical publications as well as journals and newspapers were returned. Poland restituted 6 world-famous music autographs in 1977 and later a valuable edition of a Bible.

Following the dismissal of Rudolf Hoecker for political reasons, Horst Kunze (1950 to 1976), Friedhilde Krause (1977 to 1988) and Dieter Schmidmaier (1989 to 1991) were the directors of the Deutsche Staatsbibliothek (DSB).

The DSB was the central universal research library of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and in cooperation with the Deutsche Bücherei in Leipzig, fulfilled the tasks of a national library. The library was responsible for the acquisition of important foreign research literature and the collecting and archiving of German prints published before 1913. The goal for the German language area was to have a complete collection of all important scientific and fictional literature. With regard to foreign literature, the emphasis of the collection was placed on scientific journals of all subject areas. In addition, the library was a legal deposit library for all publications published in the GDR and also for publications of the United Nations and its agencies.

About 30% of the approximately 70,000 new acquisitions per year were obtained through extensive international exchange relations with more than 1,000 partners from about 80 states – particularly from socialist countries. The older holdings were supplemented by antiquarian purchases, donations or exchanges. 

Besides the traditional focus points within the humanities, reference works and the enlargement of the special collections, it became increasingly important for the library to acquire relevant literature for scientific and technical subjects as well as publications from socialist states.

For political reasons, about 120,000 volumes were kept locked up in a department for special research literature; their use was heavily restricted.

The first decades of the DSB were marked by a positive development due to a generous acquisition policy and the assignment of new central tasks. However, the last years of the GDR showed another picture – the increasing economic difficulties had an effect on the library. The lack of foreign currency led to substantial gaps in literature from the so-called non-socialist currency areas; the stagnant development of the building inevitably led to the building’s structural and technical overageing.

The Institute for Interlibrary Loans and Central Catalogues, established in 1970 as a department of the DSB, continued the work for the Information Bureau of the German libraries.

Newly founded:

  • die Kinder- und Jugendbuchabteilung (1951) / Children’s and Young People’s Book Department (1951)   
  • die Abteilung für seltene und kostbare Drucke (1975) / Department for Rare and Precious Prints (1975)
  • die Reprographische Abteilung (1968; ab 1981 Dokumentenbereitstellungszentrum) / Reproduction Department (1968; from 1981: Document Supply Centre)
  • das Organisations- und Rechenzentrum (1982, von 1972 bis 1982 Abteilung für Mechanisierung und Automatisierung) / Organisation and Data Centre (1982, 1972 to 1982 Department of Mechanisation and Automation).

The DSB took on numerous central and supraregional tasks within the library system of the GDR. For example, it took on the following responsibilities:

  • the central catalogues for foreign literature in the GDR
  • national and international inter-library loan
  • the international exchange of documents, particularly with the national libraries of Eastern European countries on the basis of intergovernmental agreements
  • Zentralstelle für wissenschaftliche Altbestände / central office for old academic collections (ZwA; non-commercial use of deaccessioned library books)
  • the central inventory of medieval manuscripts.

In addition, the DSB continued important projects of the Preußische Staatsbibliothek, notably the international Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (Union Catalogue of Incunabula).

The Deutsche Fotothek (German Photo Library; from 1961 to 1982); and the Theodor-Fontane Archiv (from 1969 to 1992) were both affiliated to the Deutsche Staatsbibliothek.

Holdings at the end of 1990

  • 3.8 million printed volumes
  • 48,050 manuscripts (including 7,000 western, 1,050 oriental and 40,000 music manuscripts)
  • 140 personal papers and collections
  • 44,000 single sheet autographs
  • 1,050 incunabula
  • 325,000 music prints
  • 35,000 sound carriers
  • 390,000 maps, atlases and globes
  • 115,000 children’s and young people’s books
  • 630,000 microfilm and microfiches
  • 9,000 periodical subscriptions (including 6,400 foreign language subscriptions)
  • 45,000 series
  • 385,000 portraits, engravings, graphische Blätter und Exlibris

The Deutsche Staatsbibliothek had 546 permanent posts in 1990.

Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin-West) 

Names: Hessische Bibliothek (1946 - 1949), Westdeutsche Bibliothek (1949 - 1962), Staatsbibliothek der Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (1962 - 1967) und Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz (1968 - 1991)

The approximately 1.5 million volumes that were evacuated to the potash mine Hattorf in Hesse (American occupation zone) were brought to Marburg after the war. The volumes were placed in the University Library and the Wilhelmsbau of the Marburg castle where, as of November 1, 1946, they were made available to the public as the “Hessische Bibliothek”. In 1947, the remaining holdings of the Preußische Staatsbibliothek which had been evacuated to locations in the American occupation zone were brought to Marburg. The treasures, which were evacuated to Beuron Archabbey (French occupation zone), arrived in 1948 and were deposited in the University Library Tübingen.

In 1949, the Hessische Bibliothek was included in the Königstein Agreement for joint financing of major supra-regional scientific institutions and was renamed Westdeutsche Bibliothek (West German Library). Among others, the following steps were of supra-regional importance during the library’s years in Marburg:

  • the establishment of an independent Eastern Europe department,
  • the creation of the Union Catalogue of Foreign Journals and Serials (GAZS), the precursor of the later Department of Bibliographical Services and the ZDB (Zeitschriftendatenbank; German Union Catalogue of Serials)
  • the establishment of the International Exchange of Official Publications for the Federal Republic of Germany, later the Department of Official Publications and International Exchange of Official Publications.

The Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, established in 1957 by federal law, took over the Westdeutsche Bibliothek in 1962 and called the library “Staatsbibliothek der Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz”. From 1968 the library was simply known as “Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz”. This finally ended a period of legal uncertainty and financial restrictions.

Under the general directors Ludwig Borngässer (from 1963 to 1972) and Ekkehart Vesper (from 1972 to 1987), the construction of the new building went on rapidly and successfully. According to plans by architect Hans Sharoun (*1893 to 1972), a huge building complex was built on Potsdamer Straße in the Tiergarten district (at the time in Berlin-West); the construction lasted from 1967 to 1978. The building is also home to the Ibero-American Institute.

Under the general directors Ludwig Borngässer (from 1963 to 1972) and Ekkehart Vesper (from 1972 to 1987), the construction of the new building went on rapidly and successfully. According to plans by architect Hans Sharoun (*1893 to 1972), a huge building complex was built on Potsdamer Straße in the Tiergarten district (at the time in Berlin-West); the construction lasted from 1967 to 1978. The building is also home to the Ibero-American Institute.

In 1964, the relocation of holdings, departments and personnel from Marburg and Tübingen to Berlin began.  The inauguration of the new representative library building, which houses a magnificent reading room landscape, took place in December 1978. It was located close to the Berlin Wall within an air-line distance of only 1.5 km from the old library building in Berlin (East). In spite of the special status of Berlin (West) and some initial difficulties, the Staatsbibliothek became an integral part of the library system of the Federal Republic of Germany. Moreover, the library had taken on important supra-regional services and special subject collections with the generous support of the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft - DFG).

Following the traditions of the Prussian State Library and encouraged by the DFG, the Staatsbibliothek took on the responsibility for numerous joint library tasks, either as an independent institution or as a sponsoring institution:

  • Zeitschriftendatenbank (ZDB, jointly with the Deutsche Bibliothek) - German Union Catalogue of Serials
  • Gemeinsame Körperschaftsdatei (GKD, jointly with the Deutsche Bibliothek and the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek) - Corporate Body Authority File
  • Gesamtverzeichnis der Kongreßschriften (GKS) - Central catalogue of congress papers
  • Standortkatalog der ausländischen Zeitungen und Illustrierten (SAZI) - Catalogue of foreign newspapers and journals in German libraries
  • Verzeichnis rechtswissenschaftlicher Zeitschriften und Serien (VRZS) - Directory of legal journals and serials
  • Bibliographia cartographica
  • German-speaking editorial office of the European Bibliography of Soviet, East European and Slavonic Studies
  • Osteuropa-Sammelkatalog - Union catalogue of the Eastern Europe literature
  • Zentralkatalog des kartographischen Schrifttums - Central catalogue of cartographic literature
  • Zentralkatalog der Orientalia - Central catalogue of Oriental publications
  • Gesamtindex der mittelalterlichen Handschriftenkataloge - Central index to catalogues of medieval manuscripts
  • Zentrum für die Katalogisierung von Handschriften nord- und westdeutscher Provenienz - Centre for cataloguing manuscripts of North and West German provenance
  • Zentralkartei der Autographen - Central register of autographs
  • Redaktion des Sigelverzeichnisses der deutschen Bibliotheken - Directory of ISILs for German libraries
  • Clearingstelle für den Internationalen Leihverkehr - International inter-library lending clearing office
  • International ISBN Agency
  • Sammlung Deutscher Drucke (1871 - 1945) - Collection of German Printed Works (1871 - 1945).

As part of the funding programme of the DFG, the SBPK took over the following special subject collections:

  • Law
  • Oriental Studies, General
  • East and Southeast Asia
  • Carthographic publications
  • Topographic maps
  • Foreign newspapers
  • Parliamentary papers

Taking into consideration its rich historic holdings (which covered most fields of knowledge) and its traditional acquisition policy, the Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz primarily acquired scientific journals of all subjects; literature from all fields of history and the rest of the humanities; publications from and about Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa; printed music and music publications; German and foreign official publications; and publications of international organisations. Substantial increases in the budget led to a generous expansion of the existing holdings, including the expansion of the special departments and the DFG special subject collections, as well as filling in the gaps of the historic holdings.

Holdings in the beginning of 1991

  • 4.4 million printed works
  • 65,100 manuscripts (including 11,500 Western, 32,600 Oriental and 21,000 music manuscripts)
  • 800 personal papers and collections
  • 12,500 single sheet autographs
  • 3,150 incunabula
  • 240,000 music prints
  • 500,000 maps and globes
  • 970,000 microfilms and microfiches
  • 31,900 periodical subscriptions to journals and newspapers (including 21,500 subscriptions to foreign publications)
  • 9 million images

In 1990 the library had 495 permanent posts.

Since 1990 - Return to the top

The political development following the end of the GDR until the reunification of Germany affected the two state libraries in the former East and West of Berlin in a fundamental way. It was possible to reunite the two successor institutions of the Prussian State Library under the umbrella of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation after more than forty years of separation.

Already by the end of 1989, the libraries established contact in a quick and unbureaucratic way. On May 31, 1990, both libraries submitted a joint memorandum: the Deutsche Staatsbibliothek and the Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz and their common future as “United State Libraries” (Vereinigte Staatsbibliotheken zu Berlin).

The content at the heart of shaping this document was included as Article 35 (5) in the Unification Treaty between the two German States, which was put into force on October 3, 1990:

The parts of the former Prussian state collections which were separated as a result of post-war events (including State Museums, State Libraries, Secret State Archives, Ibero-American Institute, State Musicology Institute) shall be joined together again in Berlin. The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation shall assume responsibility for the time being. Future arrangements shall likewise involve an agency that is responsible for the former Prussian state collections in their entirety and is based in Berlin.

The immediate consequence of this article was the incorporation of the Deutsche Staatsbibliothek into the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz) on the Day of German Unity, October 3, 1990.

In January 1992, the two state libraries were merged into one institution. Since then the name has been Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz.

New opportunities for the outstanding scientific and cultural institution: Staatsbibliothek

Two previously independent scientific universal libraries, each with full functionality – in acquisition, subject indexing, library use and several special departments  – had to be merged. Holdings and departments had to be distributed to two existing buildings in order to create a meaningful and suitable overall organisation with clearly divided functions.

The new library’s concept had to be one of an institution operating at an international level. It would have to meet the needs of the library users as well as the expectations and requirements of a library financed by the federal state and all German states:

  • the unique composition of the collections in the Staatsbibliothek should be comprehensive, easily searchable and quickly available,
  • the original composition of the holdings, which had been dispersed during World War II, should be restored in a coherent manner,
  • specific holdings should be specially protected,
  • library procedures and workflows should be organized in a modern and functional way,
  • the library should provide a good working environment for library users and staff.
  • The library, with all its facets, should be part of a contemporary and global information system.
  • The services of the librarians and academic staff of the library should be aimed at assisting library users with their research in the holdings of the Staatsbibliothek, in databases, in other worldwide available information resources; as well as evaluating which resource will be most beneficial for their specific research purposes.
  • At the same time, the library should pay attention to limiting the costs for the operation and care of the buildings and facilities.

These and many other aspects had to be considered during the development of a concept for the future of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, which is to be safeguarded with adequate personnel and an efficient technical and spatial infrastructure.

A library with two locations

  • The location Haus Unter den Linden 8 has been developed into the Historical Research Library. On this site the unique historical stock, which focuses primarily on items published before 1945, is kept in stacks and is being expanded retroactively. The open access shelves in the general reading room and in the Information Centre offer literature of all periods of the pre-modern era, whose end was marked by the turn of the 19th to 20th century. After the end of the general refurbishment of the building, the material-related special departments for manuscripts, music, maps, children’s and young people’s books, as well as newspapers, will be located in the Haus Unter den Linden.
  • The location Haus Potsdamer Straße 33 has been developed into the Modern Research Library. The modern holdings, with items published from 1946 onwards, will be further expanded and stored in stacks. Thematically, the general reading room will reflect that of Haus Unter den Linden, continuing the timeline, it will present literature relating to the Modern Era up to the present day; universal reference material to all eras complement this literature which is available on open access shelves. The region related special departments for literature and other materials from Eastern Europe, East Asia and the Orient will remain at this location.

At all locations: building for research and culture

In order to meet the objectives of the concept, the buildings must be structurally suitable for carrying out relevant tasks: the quality of the facilities, the seating capacities and the location of each of the institution’s buildings must support a modern library organization and the provision of high-level scientific services. For many years, the federal government has been investing considerable resources to achieve these goals:

  • At the Potsdamer Straße location, relatively few modifications were necessary to provide modern services for the holdings. The removal of the remaining asbestos in the building concluded in summer 2016.
  • The construction of a storage facility in Friedrichshagen as a new, third site.
  • For the Unter den Linden location, far-reaching decisions were necessary. In December 1998, these decisions were made by the Foundation Board of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation. The representatives of the federal government and the German states decided to completely modernize the long-established location at Unter den Linden 8, inaugurated in 1914, by:
    • renovating, repairing and refurbishing the entirety of the old building, as well as,
    • supplementing the existing building functionally and architecturally  through the addition of new buildings. This will take place in two phases: 1. a new General Reading Room, a Rare Books Reading Room and a modern vault with corresponding security technology (by 2013); 2. spacious exhibition areas (by 2015).