Monday, 15 April 2013

Guest posting - Bücherhalle Hamburg

We are thrilled that Paul Jeorrett has kindly agreed to provide a photo blog on a recent visit to the Bücherhalle Hamburg whilst on holiday. It is usually fascinating to visit other library services, never more so than when in another country. Paul's blog demonstrates many contrasts but also much food for thought. Thanks Paul - we look forward to your next posting! Let this serve as a public invitation for any CILIP Cymru Wales member to offer postings for this blog. Please contact the Policy Officer with your suggestions.

Sentinels outside Bücherhalle Hamburg
"Mann und Frau" by Stephen Balkenhol 
When on leave I wouldn’t normally visit too many libraries. In the case of the Bücherhalle Hamburg  earlier this year curiosity got the better of me as it lay on the route from the Hamburg Hauptbahnhof (Central Station) and my hotel! The first thing you notice is the strikingly huge sculpture ‘Mann und Frau’ by Stephen Balkenhol which stands sentinel at the entrance to the library, housed in the old central post office building since 2004.

Once inside you are immediately struck by the largest self return system I have seen on display, with windows all around for customers to see the full works. I was warmly welcomed by Christoph Fathke, one of the Library staff and he explained that the Danish company  Lyngsoe which installed the self return system is responsible for everything on the other side of the glass, including the transport of items between the 32 branches in the city. Bücherhalle staff only take responsibility when the trolleys are removed for re-shelving. For more information about the system see this case study.
The Lyngsoe self return system
Interactive floor plans, via touch screens, help
Bücherhalle users and visitors to find their way.
The central library itself is located on three floors and feels spacious , light and welcoming.  Another interesting innovation is their interactive multilingual electronic guide to the library (supplied by, which is touch screen and offers detailed illustrations of how to access what might otherwise be a large and potentially confusing building.  In addition I am happy to report that there are many strategically located information points throughout the building fully staffed during  library opening hours, with librarians looking after specific areas of stock along the lines of academic subject librarians in UK universities.

 "there are many strategically located information points throughout the building fully staffed during  library opening hours, with librarians looking after specific areas of stock along the lines of academic subject librarians in UK universities"

The cafe area - calm before the doors open.

There is a spacious café area on the ground floor of the library, although this picture looks a little empty as Christoph was kind enough to give me a tour before the library opened for business. When the doors did open the library became a thriving centre of the city community, obviously appreciated and well used by many Hamburgers. Unlike UK libraries everyone pays a small annual subscription to borrow from the library -
the maximum being €45 for adults over 27.

It is encouraging to see a real investment in services to children and young people and their reading. The children’s library called Kibi, short for Kinderbibliothek Hamburg was bright and lively with different areas for children to explore such as the Goldfischbecken (the goldfish bowl) for the under 3s and a flexible storytelling area called the Traumhaus (the Dream House).  Altona Library, in a suburb of Hamburg, the whole branch is themed around reading and activities for teenagers and young adults. 

The IT Suite provides a venue for
information literacy sessions for
school students
Within the Bücherhalle Hamburg, there is a dedicated IT suite and school groups come in to the Library for regular information literacy sessions delivered by the library staff. This is really innovative but one of the differences between Germany and Wales is that we work in partnership across the library sectors in areas such as information literacy and in Germany the different sectors tend to work separately.

The whole atmosphere of the Bücherhalle Hamburg draws you in and makes you want to stay and explore the extensive stock. You can see the level of design and detail on each floor and even Beethoven looks down on the Music Library information desk! The statistics for 2011 speak for themselves with 800,000 visits each year and 3.6 million loans not bad for a city population of 1.8 million!

Exceptional levels of design and detail makes this a space that draws you in,
makes you want to stay and explore further.
If you get the chance do visit the wonderfully vibrant second largest city in Germany, there is a lot to see but do add Bücherhalle Hamburg to your itinerary. For those of you who can’t get there just now you may want to tune in to this episode of  the German Sesame Street (Sesamestrasse) which was filmed in Bucherhalle Hamburg. Now there’s an idea for the marketing strand of Libraries Inspire?

My thanks go to Christoph Fathke and Anna Barckow at Bücherhalle Hamburg who gave me such a warm welcome and provided so much valuable information.

Our thanks go to Paul for this fascinating blog. We will welcome your comments on this photo blog, or indeed suggestions and contributions for further guest postings.

Paul Jeorrett is University Librarian and Head of Student Services at Glyndŵr University. Paul is a WHELF Representative and is the WHELF Observer on the CILIP Cymru Wales Executive Committee.  

All images in this posting are (c) Paul Jeorrett, 2013.

1 comment:

  1. Really interesting blog post and great pictures. Lots to pick out (not least the Seasame Street episode in the library), but one thing I was wondering is whether all public libraries in Germany charge a fee for membership, or just big city central ones? They're clearly attracting a huge number of people.