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German Collections Development Policy

The Library seeks to acquire current material of research interest in the humanities and social sciences published in the German-speaking countries, regardless of language, as widely as possible subject to prevailing budgetary constraints.

Growth of the German Collections

From its foundation in 1753, the library of the British Museum (now part of the British Library) included many books from the German-speaking countries, roughly half of them in Latin and half in the vernacular. The Library's holdings of German books, in the widest sense, published before 1800 total roughly 115,000 items. For the relevant special catalogues, see Early Printed Collections. Early German books were present in great numbers in the collections of Sir Hans Sloane and Sir Joseph Banks, as well as in the library of George III, all of which now form part of the British Library. The older German collections are strong in nearly all subject areas apart from law, and are especially strong in works on theology and church history, general history, classical antiquity, science and medicine. Unlike those in major libraries in the German-speaking countries, the historic German collections of the British Library are not limited by regional, historical or religious criteria, and they are rich in popular and ephemeral publications. For this reason they are of worldwide importance.

Current collecting policy

Coverage of German publications is especially strong in traditional mainstream humanities disciplines such as history, literature, language, philosophy and theology, and extends equally to the study of these subjects outside the context of the German-speaking world; for example, works on English, Romance, East European or classical literatures are considered just as much in scope as those on German literature. A very high proportion of German scholarly publishing, especially in academic series, is devoted to the study of non-German civilisations, and this is reflected in the collecting policy of the British Library. Primary texts of contemporary German belles-lettres are acquired comprehensively if they are considered to be of serious literary merit.

Books on the fine arts and the theatre are collected strongly; there is evidence of a substantial demand for German material in these subjects in the St. Pancras Reading Rooms, including books on music which are a particular strength of German and Austrian publishing. (For the Library's collections of scores, see the policy statement for Music.)

German material on librarianship and bibliography, especially when written from a historical perspective, and library catalogues, are collected as comprehensively as possible, as befits one of the world's greatest repositories of the written word.

Archaeology is collected as strongly as resources will allow, coverage of publications of the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut being almost comprehensive.

German material in the social sciences, including economics, sociology, education and anthropology, is acquired more selectively, preference being given to works of a historical nature, or those relating directly to the German-speaking countries or the English-speaking world. Books on the history of law are acquired, but not commentaries on contemporary legal texts. Serious studies of contemporary politics are still acquired.

Works on the history of science are acquired, but modern science and technology are the responsibility of Science, Technology and Business. The scientific aspects of geography are out of scope, but human geography is still collected. Guide books are not acquired unless they contain significant serious content, e.g. on art and architecture. Other borderline subjects, such as environmental studies and psychology, are acquired very selectively.

In addition to science and technology, the following types of material are generally excluded: children's books; translations from other languages (unless the original language is only accessible to very few people and the subject-matter is not covered in English); low-level treatments of any subject; practical books such as manuals.

Strengths of the German Collections

Whilst mainstream academic publications have always been strongly collected, the Library is also rich in popular and ephemeral material, which German academic libraries have sometimes ignored in the past because its research value was not appreciated at the time. Particular strengths include popular literature such as ballads; political pamphlets, of which the Library holds collections relating to the Thirty Years' War and 1848 Revolution; and rare historical ephemera of regional or local interest, for example from Switzerland. Though academic treatises on law are not well represented, the texts of individual laws from various states and cities are present in the collections in vast numbers. This tradition is continued today in the extensive collection of official publications, both at federal and state level. The Library's collection of German official publications is by far the largest in the United Kingdom.

The Library's collection policy has also been influenced by political reality at various periods in history. After the Second World War it acquired many thousands of non-academic books published in Nazi Germany, including popular works on history, geography and international relations; racial ideology; school text-books; and practical advice for German citizens in wartime.
Such material is hard to find today in German libraries, but in the light of continuing interest in this period of German history and current teaching curricula in sixth forms and universities it represents an almost unparalleled collection of primary source material for the study of this era. In parallel with this material, the Library has a fine collection of periodicals and newspapers produced by Germans and Austrians exiled to Britain and other European countries during the Third Reich. Subsequently, the Library regularly acquired publications from the German Democratic Republic throughout almost the entire period of its existence; as a result its collections of such material, including official publications, are very representative.

For more detailed information see Notable German Collections


German Section
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7572
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7578