A scandal in cultural and education politics

The useless and senseless dismantling of the Central and Regional Library Berlin must be prevented!

“The Central and Regional Library Berlin (ZLB) is the largest public library in Germany,” is unequivocally written on the ZLB website. What’s more: “The ZLB is Berlin’s most popular cultural and educational institution.”

This magnificent library is at risk. According to the wishes of managing director Volker Heller and the board of the ZLB, its diverse holdings are slated to be dismantled. Furthermore, the process that led to this decision has not been open to public debate or scrutiny:

The majority of books in most subject areas, which will now be designated “bulk business,” may no longer be selected by the ZLB itself. Instead it is required to accept the selection of external service providers, primarily that of the ekz-bibliotheksservice GmbH from Reutlingen.

This decision will radically alter the profile of the ZLB:

The offerings at the ekz are limited. They consist of a unified standard selection that is required to fit all public libraries in Germany, from the smallest village library to the larger libraries in big cities. In Berlin, practically everything the ekz offers is now available in the approximately 80 local libraries and 12 main libraries. The ZLB, with its more extensive function, has previously supplemented this offer by providing more and more specific media.

These standardized media packages will mean that the selection of books will be greatly reduced in many subject areas, for instance in politics, history, and the social sciences. The breadth and variety of language courses in German and many other languages, ‘foreign language literature,’ and specialist literature for further education (especially medical occupations and pedagogy) will be noticeably cut.

At the same time, the existing purchasing budget is supposed to be spent according to purely market-based criteria: according to acquisition models based on operating figures, in which the individual subject areas will be forced into mutual competition.

These cuts in intellectual diversity, cloaked in the mantle of rationalization, are a waste of public funds–funds that are actually meant to maintain the qualitatively higher level of this unique educational and cultural institution. The scope of the publishing and book trade in Berlin will also be permanently affected if orders in the millions are monopolized by a centralized purchasing system. The financial effects will also take their toll on the city.

(1) A further attack on a particularly public institution?

The American Memorial Library (AGB) was founded according to the public library model in the USA. In this tradition, the ZLB, a union of the AGB and the Berlin City Library (Berliner Stadtbibliothek) , is to this day a general library system serving the wide breadth of society. It is a rare combination of the academic and the popular, the ordinary and the particular–a unique combination here in Germany. With its 3.5 million units, of which 2.5 million are books from the last 100 years, it is among the most popular lending libraries in Germany. It is in no way comparable to the central local libraries in Hamburg and Bremen, which Volker Heller has proposed as models. These maintain a very limited stock of books, exclusively made up of literature from the last 10 years. Both libraries are so-called consumer libraries, with only 100,000 volumes; each year they discard as many books as they take in. There is no archival process. Is this what we want the ZLB to look like in the future? Only the special collections and some specialized areas are meant to be protected. This, however, will mean destroying exactly that specific diversity of this unique general library in favor of a separation between high culture and mass culture.

One thing is clear: the restructuring of the ZLB will destroy its particularly public quality–egalitarian, easily accessible, diverse. The new concept reduces the wide variety of ZLB users to a declared “bulk business,” for whom an assortment of bestsellers and current (primarily German-language) literature is deemed to be completely sufficient. To do this at a time when Berlin is developing more and more into an international metropolis is short sighted and counterproductive.

(2) Completely without cause?

The open question that remains is: why is all this happening? Looking from the political sides of things, no budget cuts are slated for the ZLB. The balance sheet was in fact positive at the end of 2014. Presumably the restructuring is meant to free up librarians’ working hours for important future tasks such as dealing with digital media. But there are no concrete plans for such things, and alternatives have never been seriously considered. Furthermore, it is highly questionable whether turning subject librarians into technical information service providers is an appropriate concept for a modern library.

And yet, at a hearing in the Berlin City Parliament in March 2015, the state secretary of culture, Tim Renner, attempted to discredit critics of the restructuring as holding onto the past, claiming that they are driven by the “raw fear of digitalization.” We, the digitally literate, ask: What should the ZLB of the future actually look like? It is obvious that the current plans are meant to push an already well-functioning library into “high performance service” at the cost of the substance of its holdings.

(3) Our demands

We are cultural producers, writers, students, filmmakers, retirees, curators, academics, parents, artists, neighbors, publicists, book dealers, theater professionals, intellectuals, book worms, we are the users of the ZLB and we are worried about a dramatic drop in the quality of a Berlin institution that for us represents a unique resource and working base.

We call on the governing mayor and cultural senator of Berlin, Michael Müller, to assure that the all plans for the library be made public, immediately and without obfuscation. Following initial protests, there currently seems to be an attempt to make some cosmetic changes to the concrete numbers, without this making any change in the basic concept: to level the holdings of the ZLB. Both the staff at the ZLB as well as the Berlin public must be informed and included in any future decisions. The most popular cultural institution in Berlin must not be dismantled behind closed doors!

As users of the ZLB and cultural producers in Berlin we demand an end to this senseless and aimless, ahistorical, undemocratic, and narrow-minded ‘restructuring.’ It would mean downgrading one of the most important educational and cultural institutions in Germany, turning it into an ineffectual outpost for bestsellers.
Planning with the future in mind looks quite different!


  • Madeleine Bernstorff, Kulturproduzentin, Berlin
  • Sebastian Bodirsky, Video-Editor, Berlin
  • Nanna Heidenreich, Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin im Fach Medienwissenschaften, HBK Braunschweig, Ko-Kuratorin Forum Expanded/Berlinale
  • Max Linz, Autor und Regisseur, Berlin
  • Bini Adamzcak, Autorin, Berlin
  • AK Berliner Stadtteilbibliotheken
  • AK Kritische Bibliothek
  • Dr.in Karin Aleksander, AG Gender und Diversity in Bibliotheken / Genderbibliothek – Information – Dokumentation, Zentrum für transdisziplinäre Geschlechterstudien (ZtG), Berlin
  • Ingo Arend, Kunstkritiker und Essayist, Deutschlandradio Kultur, taz, Kunstforum International. Mitglied des Präsidiums der neuen Gesellschaft bildende Kunst (nGbK) Berlin
  • Artefakte (Brigitta Kuster, Regina Sarreiter, Dierk Schmidt), KünstlerInnengruppe, Berlin
  • Sonja Augart, Choreographin, Dramaturgin und Dozentin
  • Imran Ayata, Autor
  • b_books, Buchhandlung und Verlag, Berlin
  • Michael Baute, Autor, Berlin
  • Prof. Ulrike Bergermann, Professorin für Medienwissenschaft an der HBK Braunschweig
  • Dr. Zülfukar Çetin, Mercator-IPC, Fellow an der SWP, Alice Salomon Hochschule und Vorstandsmitglied im Türkischen Bund Berlin Brandenburg
  • cinéma copains, Filmemacher, Berlin
  • Marco Clausen, Mitgründer Prinzessinnengarten und Nachbarschaftsakademie, Berlin
  • Vaginal Davis, Performance-, Bildende- und Videokünstlerin, Filmkuratorin, Musik-Ikone und Bandleaderin, Berlin
  • Janine Eisenächer, Vorstand Flutgraben e.V., Berlin
  • Tatjana Fell, Künstlerin/Kuratorin, arttransponder
  • Jesko Fezer, Professor für Experimentelles Design, HFBK Hamburg, Mitbegründer der Buchhandlung Pro qm Berlin
  • Maja Figge, UDK Berlin, Kultur- und Medienwissenschaftlerin
  • Christian Geißler, Lehrer, Berlin
  • Veronika Gerhard, Künstlerin, Berlin
  • Fiona Geuß, Fotini Lazaridou-Hatzigoga, Caleb Waldorf, A Public Library, Berlin
  • Annett Gröschner, She She Pop, Performance Kollektiv, Berlin
  • Ulrike Hamann, Kotti & Co, Mietergemeinschaft am Kottbusser Tor
  • Lydia Hamann, Künstlerin, Berlin
  • Prof. Birgit Hein, Filmemacherin, Filmwissenschaftlerin, Mitglied der Akademie der Künste Berlin und Stellvertretende Direktorin der Sektion Bildende Kunst
  • Daniel Hendrickson, Übersetzer, Autor, Musiker, Mitglied der Künstlergruppe CHEAP
  • Christoph Hochhäusler, Autor, Regisseur, Herausgeber der Filmzeitschrift „Revolver”
  • Dominique Hurth, Bildende Künstlerin & Professorin
  • Kerstin Karge, Kuratorin, Kulturmanagerin, Haben und Brauchen, Berlin
  • Bettina Knaup, Freie Kuratorin, Berlin
  • Kotti & Co, Mietergemeinschaft am Kottbusser Tor Berlin
  • Katinka Krause, Antiquariat ‚Die Biographische Bibliothek‘, Berlin
  • Jan Künemund, Redaktion SISSY, Salzgeber & Co. Medien GmbH
  • Prof. Dr. Christian Lammert, Professor für die Politik Nordamerikas am John-F.-Kennedy-Institut der FU Berlin
  • Pia Lanzinger, Künstlerin, Berlin
  • Heimo Lattner, Künstler, Berlin
  • Dirk Laucke, Dramatiker, Berlin
  • Julia Lazarus, Bildende Künstlerin, Berlin
  • Prof. Dr. Ethel Matala de Mazza, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Institut für deutsche Literatur
  • Thomas Meinecke, Autor und Plattenaufleger
  • Prof. Angela Melitopoulos, Künstlerin, Berlin
  • Karolin Meunier, Künstlerin, Berlin
  • Prof. Sylke Rene Meyer, Professorin für Drehbuch und Dramaturgie an der Internationalen Filmschule Köln (ifs)
  • Dr. Anja Michaelsen, Ruhr Univ. Bochum, Medienwissenschaftlerin
  • Elke aus dem Moore, Leiterin der Kunstabteilung des ifa – Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, Stuttgart / Berlin
  • Prof. Dr. Maria Muhle, Professorin für Philosophie | Ästhetik, Akademie der bildenden Künste München und Mitbegründerin des August Verlags Berlin
  • Eckart Müller, ZLB-Nutzer / Initiator der Petition https://www.openpetition.de/petition/online/buechervernichten-in-berlin-bibliotheken-werden-kaputt-rationalisiert
  • Wolfgang Müller, Autor, Künstler, Musiker, Berlin
  • Keren Ida Nathan, Artist
  • Prof. Dr. Rolf F. Nohr, Medienästhetik / Medienkultur, HBK Braunschweig / Institut f. Medienforschung (IMF)
  • Dr. An Paenhuysen, freiberufliche Kuratorin / Kunstkritikerin
  • Jelka Plate, Künstlerin
  • Pro qm (Katja Reichard), thematische Buchhandlung, Berlin
  • Prof. Anne Quirynen, Künstlerin und Professorin, Europäische Medienwissenschaft, Fachhochschule Potsdam
  • Dr. Nils Riecken, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin
  • Monika Rinck, Autorin, Mitglied in der Deutschen Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung und der Akademie der Künste Berlin
  • Dr. Thomas Ripper, Bibliotheksleiter Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin
  • Dr. phil. habil. Friedrich Rothe, Schriftsteller / Galerist
  • Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Künstlerin
  • Astrid Schmidt, (Kulturwissenschaftlerin), Referentin ver.di Bundesverwaltung, Berlin
  • Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Stefanie v. Schnurbein, Professorin für Neuere skandinavische Literaturen, Direktorin Nordeuropa-Institut, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
  • Prof. Dr. Gerhard Schumm
  • Peter Schwarz, Walter Grömling, Ute Volz, für Antiquariat BÜCHERHALLE Berlin
  • Dr. Florian Sedlmeier, Juniorprofessor, Abteilung Literatur, John-F.-Kennedy-Institut fuer Nordamerikastudien, Freie Universitaet Berlin
  • Prof. Dr. Judith Siegmund, Juniorprofessorin für Theorie der Gestaltung/Ästhetische Theorie und Gendertheorie, Universität der Künste Berlin und Bildende Künstlerin
  • Heidi Sill, Bildende Künstlerin, Berlin
  • Loreto Solis, Übersetzerin und Journalistin, Nutzerin der ZLB
  • Prof. Kerstin Stakemeier, Juniorprofessorin für Medientheorie, Akademie der Bildenden Künste München
  • Kerstin Stoll, Künstlerin
  • Prof. Dr. Joseph Vogl, Professor für Neuere deutsche Literatur, Literatur- und Kulturwissenschaft/Medien, Institut fuer deutsche Literatur, Humboldt-Universitaet zu Berlin
  • Vorstand und Beirat des Verbands der deutschen Filmkritik (VdFk e.V.), Berlin
  • Dorothee Wenner, Filmemacherin, Berlin
  • Axel Wieder, Leiter der Index – The Swedish Contemporary Art Foundation und Mitbegründer Pro qm, Berlin
  • Florian Wüst, Künstler, Filmkurator, Haben und Brauchen, Berlin
  • Jessica Zeller, Geschäftsführerin von Edkimo, die Feedback-App für den Unterricht, Berlin
  • Juliane Zelwies, Künstlerin, Berlin
  • Prof. Florian Zeyfang, Filmemacher & Professor an der Umeå Akademy of Fine Arts, Schweden / Künstler, Berlin
  • Inga Zimprich, Künstlerin, Flutgraben e.V., Berlin