Dinner with Carmina:

or, the German Resources Project Meets in Munich

By Jeffrey Garrett

WESS Newsletter
Fall 2003

Vol. 27, no. 1

Editor: Sarah G. Wenzel

Association of College & Research Libraries
©American Library Association

In the end, everyone came. Worrying for months that turnout would be low, we were astonished on that warm and sunny morning of July 29 to look out onto a nearly full meeting hall in the Goethe Forum, the state-of-the-art conference site near Munich’s Olympic Park that our German partners had generously arranged for our use.

Dorothea Sommer was there. Dorothea is deputy director of the university library in Halle. She came and talked about Halle’s extraordinary Middle East Virtual Library (MENALIB)—alongside an equally impressive presentation by Ann Okerson about Yale’s impressive online access program, OACIS, for Middle Eastern Studies. Russ Clement and Nicole Kloth, art librarians at Northwestern and Heidelberg respectively, were also both there, presenting in tandem their very different collections and the very different ways art librarianship is practiced in the United States and Germany. Melissa Trevvett of Chicago’s Center for Research Libraries came to Munich as well. She spoke in the afternoon, suggesting many areas where the Center could help support our activities. Elmar Mittler came, along with an entire entourage from the State and University Library at Göttingen. Together with Jim Niessen, the new chair of our Collection Development Working Group, he gave us the latest details on the DigiZeitschriften project, an online journals archive very similar to our own JSTOR—and just as ambitious.

In fact, in addition to Jim Niessen, all GRP working group chairs made the journey to Munich: Lynn Wiley of Illinois, who chairs the Document Delivery Working Group; Dick Hacken, who has just taken over the reins of the Digital Library Working Group from MSU’s Michael Seadle; and Roger Brisson of Harvard, newly installed as chair of the Bibliographic Control Working Group. Two other attendees deserve special mention. One is Klaus Kempf, head of collections at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, who in addition to coping with the demands of assembling his own large-scale meeting—the two-day IFLA Preconference “Is Digital Different?” that followed on the heels of ours—found time to give us all kinds of planning help and to attend our meeting himself. And then there is Helene Baumann, member-at-large of the GRP steering committee, who was both the brains and the muscle behind this meeting, for whom no task was too large or too small.

How comes it that an organization calling itself the “German Resources Project” should be hosting presentations on Middle Eastern Studies and Art History? What happened to Goethe and Schiller? Materials on the rise of National Socialism? The presumption behind the old model of the German Resources Project was that German research materials are of interest to us only inasmuch as they help us understand German society, culture, science, industry, etc. Over the last five years, probably dating back to the last European encounter of the GRP in Göttingen in March 1999, we have realized that this definition is passé. It represents, we feel now, a totally unnecessary form of tunnel vision, especially when one considers the extraordinary wealth of research that takes place in Germany on all topics of interest, up to and including North American studies. “German resources” are simply all information resources available in or through German libraries.

The Munich meeting confirmed that we have also parted company with several other hallowed beliefs that were at one time foundational for our work. One is that our paramount goal is to duplicate German research library collections on our side of the Atlantic in order to ensure access to them. In the modern digital environment, this simply no longer makes sense. We no longer need to duplicate collections to have access to them—access defined here both as bibliographic access and as access to content. We have direct real-time access to German library catalogs, and access to content is increasingly available electronically or can at least be facilitated electronically. It is a sign of the times that we are no longer really interested in transporting large collections of decomposing wood pulp to new homes in the United States., e.g. the 50,000 volumes of the former teachers college of Erfurt or the much larger Opfermann Collection, currently located in New Zealand.

And finally we are learning from our German colleagues to understand that partnership cannot be conceived of as a one-way street. The flow of information and services facilitated by the German Resources Project has to be in both directions. We need to help our European partners in ways that mirror the way we are asking them to help us. We probably need a new name.

This cannot be the place to describe in detail all of the exciting projects—completed, in process, and only dreamed of—that were presented to participants of our Munich meeting. Highpoints for me were the discussions between podium and floor, in which, for example, Lynn Wiley and Reimer Eck of Göttingen discussed how to get transatlantic document delivery back up and running again after a huge copyright-related snag brought the exchange partnership down a year ago. With important contributions from past GRP chair Tom Kilton (Illinois) and past working group chair Barbara Walden (Wisconsin), the merits of new record conversion projects were also discussed and debated, comparable in scale and importance to the collaboration that made the 15,000 bibliographic records for the “Bibliothek der deutschen Literatur” loadable into American OPACs—a project that netted the GRP $11,000, by the way, money that helped many American and German colleagues to attend this meeting.

As with any professional encounter in an exotic setting, half the value and certainly at least half the fun took place in the corridors between meetings and in the evenings out on the streets. We were grateful for a reception that Klaus Saur organized for us in his headquarters south of downtown Munich—followed by a delightful evening at a genuine biergarten in Grosshesselohe. Not content with one biergarten, at the end of the conference and before we all went our separate ways, we spent a raucous evening in a second one: the vast Augustiner garden near Munich’s main train station. But somewhere in the middle, between the meetings, the debates, and the liters of beer, there was a magical evening in the Staatsbibliothek, hosted by Klaus Kempf, a banquet at which Bavarian haute cuisine was served in a princely setting. Just before dessert, Klaus and his colleague Ulrich Montag invited us into the exhibit room next door where just a few of the treasures of this library were on display. Was it the effect of too much wine, or was that really the original 13th century Carmina Burana manuscript we were looking at? Was that the real Wessobrunner Prayer, a manuscript of the early 9th century and one of the oldest two or three surviving texts in German? And over there: the first manuscript copy of Gottfried’s Tristan? O doch, it was all real.

After these vertiginous moments, it was back to the buffet for Bavarian crème and the best Rote Grütze of my life. Yes, “German resources” come in many forms and flavors.


Useful Links and Resources:

German Resources Project Homepage: http://grp.lib.msu.edu/.

GRP Conference Website: http://www.lib.duke.edu/ias/WESS/Munich.htm.

MENALIB at Halle: http://ssgdoc.bibliothek.uni-halle.de/vlib/html/index.html.

OACIS at Yale: http://www.library.yale.edu/oacis/.

DigiZeitschriften Project: http://www.digizeitschriften.de/.

IFLA Preconference, July 30-31, 2003: "Is digital different? New trends and challenges in acquisition and collection development": http://www.bsb-muenchen.de/ifla/ifla_pre.htm.

Exhibit of Medieval German Manuscripts at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek: http://www.bsb-muenchen.de/english/dthss_e.htm.

Catalog of the Exhibit: Montag, Ulrich, and Karin Schneider. Deutsche Literatur des Mittelalters: Handschriften aus dem Bestand der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek München mit Heinrich Wittenwilers Ring als kostbarer Neuerwerbung. Schatzkammer 2003. Munich: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, 2003. 116 p. ISBN 3-9807702-1-4. €20.

Recipe for Rote Grütze: http://www.dianaskitchen.com/page/favorite/rgrutze.htm.

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