How is the university library

History of the Heidelberg University Library

As early as the late 14th and early 15th centuries, three libraries were built in the area of ​​the university: the book collection of the artist faculty, that of the higher faculties and that of the collegiate church (Heiliggeistkirche).

The foundation of the faculty libraries was made up almost exclusively of the bequests of professors. The library of the collegiate church was also available for scientific studies. It owed its decisive expansion to the passionate book collector Elector Ottheinrich (1556-1559). He had the books placed in the castle brought to the Heiliggeistkirche and finally determined in his will the final unification of the holdings in this place. Ottheinrich thus laid the foundation stone for the Bibliotheca Palatina, which - supplemented by Ulrich Fugger's extensive library - achieved world fame within a few decades and became the "greatest treasure of scholarly Germany".

This development was suddenly undone in the Thirty Years' War. After Tilly conquered Heidelberg in September 1622, the victorious Duke Maximilian of Bavaria gave the Bibliotheca Palatina to Pope Gregory XV. In February of the following year, the transport of more than 3,500 manuscripts and around 13,000 printed matter to Rome began. The library sank into insignificance.

It only began to rise again with the reorganization of the university at the beginning of the 19th century. The allocation of libraries to secularized monasteries laid the foundation for the new university library. Efforts to reclaim the Bibliotheca Palatina led to a partial success in 1816: 847 German manuscripts from the Vatican and some Latin and Greek works that had meanwhile been handed over to Paris came back to Heidelberg. In 1888, the Codex Manesse (Great Heidelberg Song Manuscript), which had been indirectly sent to the Royal Library in Paris, returned to Heidelberg as part of an exchange deal. This most representative collection of Middle High German poetry was created around 1300 in Zurich and achieved worldwide fame primarily because of the 137 miniatures it contained.

At the end of the 19th century, the library was under the direction of a professional librarian for the first time: under the aegis of Karl Zangemeister (1837-1902), the new library building by the architect Joseph Durm began, which opened in 1905 and is still in use today.

In the decades that followed, the library's holdings continued to grow and in 1934 exceeded the one million mark.

Since 1949, Heidelberg University Library has been involved in the national special collection area plan financed by the German Research Foundation and has taken over the subjects Egyptology, Classical Archeology, Middle and Modern Art History up to 1945 and General Art History and South Asia since 2005.

Since 1978, the branch of the University Library - located in the immediate vicinity of the natural science and medical institutes and clinics in Neuenheimer Feld - has been serving the local user group. It was expanded in the 1990s, partially renovated in 2020/21 and offers 317 reading and workplaces as well as a comprehensive inventory of scientific and medical journals. There are also group work rooms, PC workstations and special services such as the loan of anatomical models and the virtual dissection table.

The partial restoration of the main building in the old town, which was completed in 1988, also improved the conditions of use. After a further renovation in 1995, an open access and reference inventory of around 535,000 volumes and around 675 reading and workplaces were available.

The reading room, which today extends to 6,500m², was rebuilt in the years 2009-2015. The approximately 1,000 workplaces are geared towards the different learning needs: there are still or standing workplaces, as well as group work rooms and individual work cubicles that can be reserved for use. The equipment moves with the times: tablets, PCs, multimedia computers, smartboards and large screens are available. It also offers space for up to 200,000 volumes of journals, reference works and overview literature.

The university library today owns around 3.2 million books and magazines, over 500,000 non-book materials such as microfilms, videos and DVDs, and around 6,900 manuscripts. It has around 43,500 active users and records around 1 million loans every year. The conventional supply of literature at the university library is supplemented by numerous electronic services.

The service functions of the university library are supported by the HEIDI electronic catalog. The OPAC offers an ordering and borrowing component and allows research according to any bibliographical or inventory-related criteria. Internet-based information and communication offers, over 3,900 different databases as well as internal and external electronic delivery services round off this offer. 143,027 electronic journals and around 720,000 e-books can be accessed around the clock by university members.

The university library participates in the city's cultural life with exhibitions on various topics.