WESSWEB - Western European Specialists Section Newsletter

Vol. 18, No. 1 (Fall, 1994)
New Haven, Connecticut
Page 10

Book Review

Archives and Libraries in a New Germany. Erwin K. Welsch and Jürgen Danyel with Thomas Kilton. New York: Council for European Studies, 1994. 372 p. $35 incl. postage from CES (1016-1018 Schermerhorn, New York, NY 10027)

Erwin Welsch (WiU) is widely known for his English-language guides to the libraries and archives of Germany and France. More recently, he has performed a major service to both novice and experienced navigators of the Internet with "Electronic Sources for West European History and Culture," with a comprehensive update arriving online this past spring (see "Europe in Bits & Bytes" in our Fall 1993 issue).

For the present volume, Welsch has teamed up with German archival specialist Jürgen Danyel (Berlin) and fellow WESS member Tom Kilton (IU) to produce an indispensable handbook for North American scholars planning research in unified Germany, at last adequately replacing his Libraries and Archives in Germany (1975).

The introduction outlines general strategies for locating and using research collections in the rich but complex, decentralized, and still volatile post-unification German Bibliothekslandschaft. The major libraries and archives are presented by region and then city, usually with brief histories, holdings and special collections information, internal organization, user privileges/restrictions, the institution's role (where applicable) in the new national subject specialization scheme set up by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, the stage of OPAC development, and often even accessibility by public transportation.

For all major collections a bibliographic supplement is provided which gives a sense of historical strengths and possible directions for future research. The annotated bibliography at the end of the volume is itself a introductory course in social sciences research in Germany today and will be read even by specialists with great profit.

Welsch and collaborators take the reader by the hand (if desired), sharing insights, impressions, and a wealth of useful personal tips. The presentation of the Berlin Document Center, for example, helpfully notes the recent New Yorker article raising concerns about the Center's microfilming project and the debate accompanying the archive's return to German administration. This type of information is anecdotal in the very best sense of the word--though at the same time exposing the work to accelerated obsolescence.

If there are weaknesses, they have to do with inevitable limitations on scope and currency. Scope is limited by a focus--self-imposed and openly confessed--on resources in history and the social sciences that affects not only coverage of collections whose strengths are in the natural or applied sciences, but also in literature and other humanities disciplines. The Bibliothek des Deutschen Museums in Munich, for example, an internationally leading collection in the history of science and technology with holdings of over one million volumes, is given just two lines of description--though, again typically, two important general articles describing the collection are referenced. By way of compensation, at the end of the work the authors outline strategies and list central resources for researchers in numerous disciplines, e.g., economics, literature, Judaica, and law.

A second, equally inevitable problem area--currency --is a consequence of the enormous fluidity of the library and archival scene in Germany just five years after reunification. A "currency check" using Sem Sutter's article "The Fall of the Bibliographic Wall" in the September 1994 issue of College & Research Libraries revealed that most of the 1993-94 developments Sutter reported were not yet reflected in the guide. Given the current situation in Germany, it is no surprise that a guide to resources shows signs of age even before publication.

Factual mistakes appear few and far between: a careful review of information with which this reviewer is familiar in and around Munich found only one mistake of consequence: Munich's Internationale Jugendbibliothek is listed at an inner-city address it in fact vacated in 1983 for more spacious quarters in Schloss Blutenburg. A minor irritant is the absence of running-head information, which would have enabled the user to go directly to a particular rubric rather than return to the table of contents or the subject index.

The "New Welsch" (as we have already begun to call it) is a work with an abundance of useful information and a human face. At $35 it is also affordable, making it in a very literal sense a "vade mecum" for students and experienced researchers alike planning a tour of German archives and libraries. Their harvest will be much the richer for this book.


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