To the top Logo of Library AAC (with link to homepage) RSS Feed for Library AAC
Print logo Library AAC

The Collections of SUB Göttingen and the JFKI Library

Collections grow and change over time - find out about the history of the libraries who run the Library AAC!

Short History of SUB Göttingen

A Library to Support Scientific Research

After its foundation in the year 1734 the Georg-August University Göttingen rapidly developed into an institution of international standing. As a well-stocked and classified library was essential for scientific research and teaching, the Royal University Library Göttingen was from the very first assembled systematically for the needs of science. The core of the collection, consisting of about 12.000 books, was formed by the private library of the High Reeve of Celle Joachim Hinrich von Bülow (1650-1724), but also held the doublets of the Royal Library Hanover and the book collection of the Göttingen Grammar School.

The First Modern Universal Library

The Hanoverian state minister and first university curator Gerlach Adolph von Münchhausen (1688-1770) proved to be an effective supporter of the library. These favourable conditions allowed the library directors Johann Matthias Gesner (1734-1761) and Christian Gottlob Heyne (1763-1812) to assemble holdings of unprecedented completeness and multiplicity. Heyne was in charge of the library for almost 50 years and developed it to a model research library. To him, acquisition meant the "continuous systematic acquisition of what is needed [...] for a library which is organised according to a scientific design, not according to predilection for a particular subject, not for ostentation, not for the lustre of outer appearance, but as a compendium encompassing the most important writings of all periods and peoples in all sciences" as he wrote in 1810. The library holdings should document the progress of scientific research instead of recapitulating familiar facts.

Within just a few decades, Heyne created a dense network of contacts with foreign book dealers, diplomats and scholars to acquire literature from all over the world. Due to the personal union between Hanover and Great Britain which lasted until 1837 the book collection showed an emphasis on Anglo-American cultures; and as Göttingen University held close ties with Russia, the Slavic cultures formed a second focus. This profile was complemented by the natural sciences.

A number of catalogues indexed the holdings in an exemplary way. In addition to the shelf-register for the Bülow Collection which was continued as an accession catalogue, an alphabetical catalogue was introduced in 1743, and a classified one in 1755. These retrieval aids were interlinked and formed the Göttingen Catalogue System.

The University Library was characterized by a liberal usage policy and soon allowed students to borrow books, which was not common at the time. This way, within a few decades the University Library Göttingen became the first modern universal library of European renown. Around 1800 it comprised already about 150.000 books. During the time of Heyne’s directorate the holdings had tripled.

The 19th Century

After Heyne’s era, the development of the Royal University Library Göttingen lost momentum for a while, mainly because its budget was tighter than before. Besides, with the Prussian annexation of the Kingdom of Hanover, the role of the library had changed: Göttingen University lost its status as a privileged state university and its library became one of ten Prussian university libraries.

The Time of the First and Second World War

A favourable collection development in the beginning of the 20th century was interrupted by World War I with its political and economical consequences. To close the gaps inflicted by the war the Emergency Association of German Science (Notgemeinschaft der Deutschen Wissenschaft) provided considerable support by the introduction of the Special Subject Collection programme. As the University library Göttingen already offered particularly comprehensive holdings in a variety of subject fields, the subject collections "Anglo-American Culture" and "Natural Sciences" were entrusted to the house as well as extra financial resources were granted for the subject of Foreign Law.

The time of National Socialism meant another crisis for the library. Jewish and politically non-opportune librarians were dismissed or forced to retire: the medievalist and librarian Prof. Dr. Alfred Hessel (1877-1939), Dr. Fritz Löwenthal, Dr. Kurt Schellenberg, Dr. Wilhelm Vogt and Dr. Gerda Krüger. Illegitimate acquisitions in the Nazi era were investigated by the research project “Identification and Restitution of Nazi Loot” in 2008-2011.

The collection suffered from severe budget cuts, but was hardly damaged during the war. Thus, the library gained important functions for the supra-regional inter-library loan system in the following years. Recognizing its outstanding services in this area, the Lower Saxony State Ministry granted the title "Göttingen State and University Library" (SUB Göttingen) in 1949.

The Post-War Years: More Special Subject Collections and the Beginning of EDP

Also in 1949, the German Research Foundation (DFG), which emerged from the Emergency Association of German Science, reorganised its Special Subject Collection Programme and entrusted the library with additional subject collections. Now, it was resonsible for the following areas, subjects and material types: English Philology, Great Britain and Ireland, North America, Celtic Studies, Australia, New Zealand, Finno-Ugric Studies, Finland, Hungary, Estonian Language and Literature, Altaic and Palaeo-Asiatic Languages and Literature, Natural Sciences in general, Geography, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Space Research, Geophysics, Abstract Mathematics, Forestry, Philosophy of Science, Information Science, Bibliology and Library Science, universal scholarly journals, thematic maps.

After rather difficult post-war years for the library, the electronic data processing era began in 1967. With the adoption of the Dutch PICA system, the Lower Saxony Library Data Centre (Bibliotheksrechenzentrum für Niedersachsen, a former department of SUB Göttingen) developed into the Common Library Network (GBV) since 1993.

SUB Göttingen Since the Beginning of the 1990ies

In the year 1992, SUB Göttingen moved into a new building on the site of the Center for Humanities. Since the official opening of the Central Library in 1993, the (now two) main buildings represent a functional division: The Central Library as a modern academic universal library, and the Historical Building as a centre for in-depth historical research. The refurbishment of the Historical Building, begun in 2000 and concluded in 2006, permitted to concentrate the library's special collections in one location. Today, the complete holdings of SUB Göttingen comprise about 8 million media items.

Projects and Activities Related to the Collections

Because of its extensive 18th century holdings, Göttingen State and University Library serves as German National Library for the 18th century as a member of the Working Group “Sammlung Deutscher Drucke” and also organizes the DFG-funded Project "Digitisation and Indexing of Printed Material Published in the 18th Century in the German-Speaking Areas (VD 18)". SUB Göttingen also took part in the project „Index of Printed Material Published in the 17th Century in the German-Speaking Areas“ (VD 17). Moreover, the library owns numerous collections of personal papers which are continously being indexed and since 2017, the approximately 450 occidental medieval manuscripts are being catalogued according to the current DFG-standards.

Since 2015, the Special Subject Collection programme of the German Research Foundation has concluded and is being replaced by the Special Subject Information Services (Fachinformationsdienste). By now, SUB Göttingen runs four of these Information Services: Mathematics Information Service, Specialised Information Service for Solid Earth Geosciences, Specialised Information Service for Finno-Ugric / Uralic Languages, Literatures and Cultures and the Library of Anglo-American Culture & History (FID AAC).

The replacement of the Special Subject Collection Programme means a change in many ways: Libraries have to rethink and reinvent a large part of their role for their users, as well as the notion of collection changes: Instead of acquiring a near-complete physical local collection and providing items out of this reservoir, the focus shifts on providing resources also from many other collections and sources and in many different forms. Libraries have done this before, but now its importance grows. Thus, the notion of collection widens – it has to be thought rather supra-regionally, which makes sense in view of the excellent digital infrastructures of library communication and organisation.

But no matter how the notion of collection changes – physical and digital library collections, be they local or conceived as supra-regional, can always be used as laboratories of thinking, spaces of inspiration and sources of knowledge.

Enjoy exploring our collections! 

For further reading please check the general list of publications!

Short History of the JFKI Library

The John F. Kennedy Institute’s library holds the largest North American Studies collection in Germany, and the broad range of subjects represented at the library make it unique on the European continent. The library contains books, periodicals, audiovisual and electronic materials relating to North American Studies in the humanities and social sciences. Apart from its importance for the education and research at the John F. Kennedy Institute, the library also offers services to the Berlin/Brandenburg area, as well as American Studies departments in Germany and throughout Europe.

The library participates in the national inter-library loan service and thus makes its holdings available all over Germany and throughout Europe.

A grant program supports approximately 40 academics every year from all over Europe and the Middle East in their research at the library.

The holdings of the library include an extensive collection of books, newspapers, magazines, microfilms, records, videotapes, slides, and modern digital media. Today the library owns more than 780.000 media units, including more than 200.000 monographs and more than 500.000 microforms.

To the top