“National Library” in Divided Germany: The Deutsche Bücherei 1945-1990

Abgeschlossenes Projekt

Employees (IfZ):  Dr. Christian Rau

This post-doc project, supported by the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (German National Library) from 2014 to 2017, explored the library’s eventful history during the years of the GDR dictatorship and the German East-West divide. The Deutsche Bücherei, originally founded in 1912 by the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels (German Publishers and Booksellers Association), was not only the largest academic library in the GDR. Its mission to collect all German-language publications and the establishment of the Deutsche Bibliothek in Frankfurt/Main in 1946 as the “German Library of the West” also involved the Deutsche Bücherei directly in the “asymmetrically intertwined parallel history” of divided Germany and the conflicts of the Cold War.

The history of the Deutsche Bücherei after 1945 is dominated by the narratives of the former librarians who employ the term National Library to express their resistance towards the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED). Thereby, they refer to the longue durée of the Deutsche Bücherei which self-confidently carried the label National Library as code for the institutional self-image already in the 1920s. Since that time, the librarians consequently applied the term as a cultural resource in the context of political debates, which continued and persisted even in the GDR. The research project took this discursive interconnection between self-image and politics as its starting point to move beyond the questions about the structures and people connected to the approaches of institutional history. Building on Mitchell Ash’s concept of “science and politics as resources for each other”, the study focused on the interactions between the Deutsche Bücherei and the SED, but also on the question of its significance for the conflicts and entanglements between the two Germanys.

At the crossroads of political, cultural, and everyday life history, and on the basis of documents from 15 different archives, the study explored the history of the Deutsche Bücherei after 1945 at the following levels of examination:

  1. The integration of the Deutsche Bücherei into and its role within the library policy of the GDR, personal networks between the library and the administration, the effects of the SED dictatorship on personnel policy, and institutional culture;
  2. The relationships and interlinkages between the Deutsche Bücherei and the Deutsche Bibliothek along with West German publishers who provided both libraries with free copies of each publication; the reaction to the Deutsche Bücherei on the part of West German federal ministries (Ministry of the Interior, Ministry for All-German Affairs/Intra-German Relations); conflicts of interest with the Deutsche Bibliothek and publishing associations; relations between the two libraries at the transnational level;
  3. The Deutsche Bücherei from the perspective of its users, the restrictions towards users, the Eigen-Sinn of the users, availability of access-limited books.

Publications within the project

Christian Rau

»Nationalbibliothek« im geteilten Land.

Göttingen 2018


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