ERCIM News No.27 - October 1996

Library Networks in Germany

by Thomas Baker

Almost all of the universities and research libraries in Germany have gained access to the Internet since 1994 - primarily over the WiN network (Wissenschaftsnetz) of the Association for Promoting a German Research Network (Deutsches Forschungsnetz) - and many now offer telnet access to their catalogs. The rise of the Web has also given new impetus to policies aimed at improving library cooperation at a national level.

Partly because of the political decentralization imposed by the Allies on the Federal Republic in 1945, Germany's libraries long remained a regional matter, with little central coordination. Its research libraries are organized in seven regional networks, each of which covers one or more of the country's sixteen Länder. Alongside these are about sixteen national scientific service organizations, such as Fachinformationszentrum Karlsruhe (FIZ), which were created in the 1970s by a federal program to provide specialized library services to business and academia in areas such as energy, geology, and materials science.

Funding and policy-making for library activities on a national level are provided by the Federal Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Technology; the Kultusministerkonferenz, an association of Länder-level cultural ministries; and the German Science Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft), which provides grants for special collections, standards development, cataloging, preservation, library services in the former German Democratic Republic, and automation. The Deutsche Bibliotheksinstitut of Berlin maintains a national union catalog and coordinates interregional projects, while Die Deutsche Bibliothek in Leipzig and Frankfurt fulfils some of the functions of a national library.

In recent years, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft has promoted turning the regional networks into full-text information services available directly to end-users from their desktops. Since 1989, its flagship library project (co-financed by the Federal Ministry of Research) has been DBV-OSI, or 'German Library Network on the Basis of OSI Standards', which aims at integrating Germany's research libraries, information centres, and professional societies into a single network. The project is implementing the Z39.50 retrieval protocol to provide unified access to a heterogeneous network of catalogs through familiar local client interfaces. In this, the project is similar to the ONE, ARCA, and UNIVERSE projects of the European Union's Telematics Programme. The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft is also overseeing the migration of Germany's diverse online catalogs to just two national software systems.

A recent project of the Federal Ministry of Research and the Länder, SUBITO, aims at integrating existing systems for document delivery in order to increase the speed and efficiency of inter-library loan (ILL). The project plans to offer Web-based ordering of photocopies, bit-mapped journals, OCR texts, and online databases starting in March 1997. SUBITO is working with the German publishers' association for permission to store and distribute documents online. In theory, SUBITO will integrate several existing ILL initiatives in Germany, though this has generated some organizational and technical controversy.

The Medoc project

The largest 'all-digital' initiative in Germany is the project Medoc, sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Research for two years starting in September 1995 to provide access to computer science literature over the Web. It is led by a consortium of FIZ Karlsruhe, the German Society of Computer Science Pro-fessionals, and Springer Verlag; a number of Germany's computer science departments, technical colleges, and research institutes are partners. Sub-projects include a catalog of technical reports, a server with indexed Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) for computer science resources, and a distributed 'Digithek' designed to hold 50 journals, 1000 books, and more than 1000 technical reports by the Fall of 1997.

It was announced on 14 August 1996 that many of the projects above will fall under a new government program called 'Information as Raw Material for Innovation'. Between 1996 and 1999, government ministries are supposed to spend a total of some 1.9 billion DM on projects in digital libraries and electronic publishing. The largest single expen-diture will reportedly be the expansion of national library facilities in Frankfurt under the sponsorship of the Ministry of the Interior (roughly 500 million DM).

Within this program, the Federal Research ministry plans on spending up to 286 million DM on extending existing projects, such as Medoc, SUBITO, and DBV-OSI, and on starting new ones. New projects will include a digital library of research reports in full text at the Technical Information Library in Hannover; an 'Internet-Based Infor-mation System for Libraries' at the universities of Dortmund and Bielefeld; and 'Innovation Stimulation of the German Economy through Scientific-Technical Information', an initiative of the Institute of the German Economy in Cologne together with 29 mostly private-sector partners, which will focus on building patent databases, encouraging inventors' clubs for students, and providing innovation training.

Other ministries, such as Transportation, Developmental Cooperation, and Health, will apparently support similar information and databank activities, though project details were still hard to come by as of early September 1996.

The high prices that have held back Internet use in Germany are due to fall with the liberalization of telecommuni-cations in 1998. Germany has a superb infrastructure of fibre-optic cables ­p; one of the world's best ­p; but at present it is quite under used. Telekom interprets this as lack of demand, though it is almost certainly due to prohibitive pricing. Meanwhile competitors to Telekom, notably the utility companies Veba and RWE, have used their privileged access to national energy grids and alliances with the German railways for laying alternative networks of data lines. When this extra capacity comes online, the economics of large-scale information networks in Germany will shift further in the favour of digital libraries.

For further information, see:
Please contact:
Tom Baker - GMD
Tel: +49 2241 14 2171

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