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Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg

History of Heidelberg University Library

Heidelberg University was founded by Elector Ruprecht I of the Palatinate and chartered by Pope Urban VI in 1386. In the late 14th and early 15th centuries, three libraries came into existence that were part of the university. They consisted of the book collections of the liberal arts faculty, of the higher faculties and of the collegiate church (Holy Ghost Church). The core of the collections in the faculty libraries consisted almost solely of the books left to the university by professors. In this way by 1396 the university managed to build up a collection of over 600 books.

In the 1440s, the university built a new library building, which by all indications appears to have been completed in 1443. The first floor was used by the liberal arts faculty for its books and loans from the upper three faculties. The second floor was used by the theological, law and medical faculties. In the period that followed the holdings were increased by additional bequests.

In 1466, as a result of the fact that the books in the library were so poorly shelved and cataloged, the university decided to produce two identical library catalogs, which were also intended to serve as access indexes. At the time, the university owned approx. 1,600 works in 841 volumes.

In addition to the faculty libraries the library of the collegiate church (Holy Ghost Church) was available for academic research. Ludwig III (who reigned from 1410-1436) expanded this library using bequests from the elector's private collections as a basis. However, the library owes its most major expansion to Elector Ottheinrich, who reigned from 1556 to 1559 and had a passion for collecting books. Upon his accession to the throne in Heidelberg, Ottheinrich introduced the Lutheran confession and saw to it that the university was completely renovated. He had the books that were being kept at the Heidelberg Castle brought to the Holy Ghost Church. This was initially intended to be a temporary solution until a library building was erected there. However, when these plans failed to be realized, Ottheinrich laid down in his will that the two collections be permanently combined in the Holy Ghost Church. In addition, he decreed that his successor purchase books for at least 50 guilders each year at the Frankfurt Book Fair to increase the collection. In so doing he laid the foundation for the Bibliotheca Palatina, which within just a few decades became world-renowned.

By 1556 the card catalog of the prince elector's library included approximately 6,400 titles, including 4,800 prints, 500 parchment manuscripts and 600 paper manuscripts. The character of the castle library reflected its collection of modern literature. There was virtually no trace of medieval or scholastic literature. A decree issued in 1588 stipulated that for the first time a full-time librarian was to be in charge of the library.

The Biblotheca Palatina grew by leaps and bounds under Ottheinrich's successor Elector Friedrich III, who ruled from 1559 to 1576, through the book collection of Ulrich Fugger of Augsburg. This collection contained some 500 parchment and 800 paper manuscripts as well as 8,000 prints. Fugger, who had converted to Protestantism, bequeathed his collection to the library in 1584. The collection had been housed in the Holy Ghost Church following his move from Augsburg to Heidelberg. Following Fugger's bequest, the Bibliotheca Palatina enjoyed its reputation as the most significant library north of the Alps.

The careful and steady work undertaken to expand the Heidelberg libraries over a period of centuries was destroyed during the Thirty Years' War. After Heidelberg was conquered by Tilly in September 1622, the victorious Duke Maximilian of Bavaria as the leader of the Catholic League gave the Bibliotheca Palatina to Pope Gregory XV in order to keep to his part of a bargain he had made earlier. In February 1623 Leone Allacci (1586-1669), who was appointed by the pope to move the collection to Rome, began to systematically transfer more than 3,500 manuscripts and approximately 13,000 prints to the library there.

The university experienced an intermezzo as a Catholic university, but was reestablished in 1652 under Karl Ludwig (reigned between 1649 and 1680), who was the son of Friedrich V, known as the "Winter King". Following the reestablishment, the university built up new collections using books and manuscripts that had survived the war as well as the contents of two libraries that had been taken over by the university in the meantime. The collection was regularly expanded through various means, including volumes that were required to be printed and placed in the library by printers and doctoral candidates. Unfortunately, the holdings were again one of the victims of war: in 1693 they were destroyed by fire during the War of the Palatinate Succession.

In 1710 the library owned 4,200 titles and by 1786, the library's 400th anniversary year, the collection was expanded to 12,000 titles. It is estimated that there were approximately 20,000 volumes around the turn of the century.

The edict of May 13 1803, proclaimed by Elector (later Grand Duke) Karl Friedrich of Baden marked the beginning of the university library's reclaim to fame. The edict also provided for the financing of the acquisition of books for the library. Following this edict, the total number of volumes increased to 120,000 by 1832. On the one hand, a large number of books was acquired from numerous monastery libraries as a result of secularization and on the other hand books were taken into the collection from the former College of Cameralistics in Kaiserslautern. The main source of books, however, was the purchase of tens of thousands of volumes from the library of the Cistercian Abbey Salem, although they were originally intended for the Grand Duke's personal library.

In 1816 efforts that had been undertaken to bring the Bibliotheca Palatina back to Heidelberg met with partial success. 847 German manuscripts from the Vatican and several Latin and Greek works that had been sent to Paris in the meantime were returned to Heidelberg.

Between 1832 and 1872 the library's holdings were increased by nearly 16,700 volumes and approximately 7,200 dissertations and brochures from private collections that greatly increased the sections of the collection that focused on jurisprudence and history. In 1865, the widow of the book dealer Nikolaus Trübner gave the university library 140 manuscripts and 2,320 volumes of prints.

In 1888, as a result of an exchange arranged by the Strasbourg book dealer Karl Trübner, the library regained possession of the famous Manesse Manuscript, which had wound up in the Royal Library in Paris around the end of the 16th century.

From 1873 to 1902 the library enjoyed the management by a full-time librarian for the first time. This was Karl Zangemeister (1837-1902), who succeeded in increasing the library's holdings to 400,000 volumes by beginning of the 20th century. His name was attached to both the library's catalogue that he developed ("Zangemeister Catalogue") as well as to the new library building designed by Architect Joseph Durm that was begun under Zangemeister's auspices in 1901 and completed in 1905, after his death.

Zangemeister's successors continued to increase the size of the holdings and in 1934 the collection contained more than one million volumes. The budget for new acquisitions, which in 1927/1928 had amounted to 37,000 reichmarks was drastically reduced to 28,000 reichmarks in 1932/1933. Despite this fact, various legacies allowed the holdings to continue to grow and in 1938 the Heidelberg University library was one of the largest libraries in the German Reich, with a collection of 1.15 million volumes.

During the Second World War valuable parts of the collection were taken to other places for safekeeping. Unfortunately, while the library building itself was spared the ravages of war, one of the places chosen for safekeeping, the Menzingen Palace in Bruchsal, south of Heidelberg, was completely destroyed by fire. In addition, during the period immediately following the war, parts of the collection in the library building were seized or plundered. It is estimated that as many as 40,000 volumes were lost during this period.

Since 1949 the Heidelberg University Library has participated in the national cooperative acquisition set-up financed by the German Research Council. Heidelberg's focuses are Egyptology, Classical Archaeology, Art Studies and Medieval and Modern Art History (up to 1945) and since 2005 South Asia. The library has made a commitment to doing as much as possible to add to the collection every work from both inside and outside Germany that has been written in these disciplines.

The partial restoration of the main library building in the Old City, which was completed in 1988, provided for greatly improved conditions for library users. Reading rooms and open stack areas with some 400,000 volumes were created. In 1991 an underground area for closed stacks that can house 1.2 volumes was completed. Further renovation in subsequent years has provided for approximately 675 study places in the main library.

Since 1978, the Neuenheim Campus branch library, which is located directly adjacent to the science and medical institutes of the university, has offered the users the same service available at the downtown location, with both reading rooms and circulation services. The branch library was expanded between 1993 and 1995, partly renovated in 2021/21 and now provides 317 study places as well as a comprehensive stock of science and medical journals. Group study rooms, multimedia work stations and special offers such as a collection of anatomic teaching models and the Virtual Anatomage Table complete the services of the Neuenheim Campus branch library.

Today Heidelberg University Library holds about 3.2 million books and periodicals, about 500.000 non-book materials like microforms, videos, DVDs and about 6.900 manuscripts. Our Library counts 43.500 active users and about 1 million loans per year. In the age of automation, the traditional means of procuring literature is supplemented by numerous electronic services. Our online catalogue HEIDI offers both: various search criterias and self-service options (e.g. reservations and renewals).

Users have access to audiovisual media, microforms, electronic databases (about 3.900), document delivery services, e-journals (about 143.027), e-Books (about 720.000), Internet and e-mail as well as a computer pool offering programs for word processing, statistics and graphics.

Heidelberg University Library actively takes part in the cultural life of the city of Heidelberg by organizing exhibitions.

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