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February 2003

Better Read

Making the most of Munich’s libraries

It’s that February feeling: stuck at home in front of the computer surrounded by stacks of books and magazines. I feel the urge to clean up and unburden myself of all this clutter. But what should I throw away? Will this book on textiles ever be of any use? And what about Jonathan Franzen’s novel The Corrections, which I hated reading, but is nearly new? While I mull over these problems it occurs to me that by joining a library I could perhaps avoid this dilemma altogether in the future.

By pure coincidence (of course) Munich’s public libraries (Stadtbüchereien) have just revised their lending system to allow better access to a wider range of books. From February 3, the complete catalogue of books available from the city libraries will be online. This cataloguing system is called OPAC, which stands for Online Public Access Catalogue (different versions of this are used at libraries around the world). Anyone with a lending card (Benutzerausweis) can order the book, cassette, video etc. of their choice online at The new system includes a customer account (Kundenkonto) service, whereby library members can check return dates (Rückgabetermine), find out when and where a borrowed item can be collected and extend lending times (Leihfristverlängerung). Foreign nationals who wish to apply for a lending card should take their passport and proof of residency (amtlicher Adressennachweis) to the nearest library. Normal membership costs € 15, whereas students and pensioners pay € 7.50 and those under the age of 18 are free. Minor charges (Gebühren) have also been introduced for advanced reservations and transportation costs when material is sent to a particular library for convenient collection. Anyone who already has a library card can continue to use this until it expires.

The Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Bavarian State Library), situated on the Ludwigstrasse at the subway stop Universität, is also an excellent resource, though generally more academic in scope. All titles can be found on their Website at under OPAC. The library has approximately 8 million books on every conceivable subject and thousands of newspapers and periodicals. It offers two main services, one for those with a lending card and one for card and non-card holders alike. Everybody can visit the general reading room (Allgemeiner Lesesaal) and make use of the 80,000 books there—on the whole these are reference books (Nachschlagewerke), such as dictionaries and encyclopedias—or the reading room with newspapers and magazines (Zeitschriftensaal), which stocks more than 18,000 current periodicals, including the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian and weeklies, such as the Economist or Newsweek. There is no charge for this service, however material from the Zeitschriftensaal must be read on the library premises.

To access all the other books, manuscripts, maps and printed music you will need a lending card. This card is available to any resident of Munich over the age of 18. As with the public libraries, anyone wishing to get a library card needs to present their passport and proof of residency at the applications desk (Zulassung) in the main hall of the Staatsbibliothek. At present the system gives members access to books at the state library and those of Munich’s Ludwig Maximilian University. Within the next months the catalogues of the public libraries and the Staatsbibliothek will be linked on the State Library Website. This service, however, is only for research purposes. To borrow material you will still need to hold a lending card for the library where the book, video etc. is kept.

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