The library as a lab
"I want to secure the standard of one of the world's leading specialist libraries in the long term and permanently improve the service in close dialogue with the researchers," Peter Weber says. The library director at the Max Planck Institutes for Innovation and Competition as well as for Tax Law and Public Finance talks about the changes in libraries, Open Access, and ongoing digitisation.
What makes the library at your institute so exceptional?
Weber: We have literature on our research fields from almost every country in the world. The collection begins with Egypt and ends with Zimbabwe, ranging from just a few titles to several thousand volumes. In total, our stock currently comprises some 220,000 books. Our aim is to make all the publications on our specialist fields available. For our researchers, the library is their laboratory and as it is extremely well equipped by international standards, it acts as a magnet for academics from all parts of the world.
The development of our library is also highly dynamic. When the institute was expanded in 2009 to include the Public Economics department, the library’s collection mandate was broadened accordingly.
You studied law. How did you come to work in a library, which isn’t really a typical career path for a lawyer, and what do your duties involve?
Weber: I am passionate about books. I actually couldn’t imagine myself working at the bar or as a lawyer. By chance, I ended up working as an academic assistant in the law department library at the University of Würzburg after my second final university examination. I really enjoyed the diverse and interesting nature of the work. In August 2002, I then took up the position as head of the library here at the institute. One of my tasks is to act as an information scout. I search through all available sources of information for new publications relevant to our researchers. The diversity of the work, the expectations that researchers have of our library and the creative opportunities in terms of ensuring optimal provision of information make the job extremely interesting.
How do you manage to decipher the content of the literature, especially in light of the wide range of languages you deal with? Who supports you in your work?
Weber: Books from Eastern Europe and Asia, for example, are examined by our researchers, but otherwise this is my job primarily. As our library team, which is made up of 12 staff, covers some 9,000 books and publication volumes each year, we have a heavy workload. The publications made accessible can be researched worldwide, but can only be borrowed internally. In addition to our researchers, around 130 fellowship holders a year and a large number of external academics also depend on the permanent availability of the titles.
How do you accommodate such a large number of users? Will the digital age ever make working with books redundant?
Weber: With 38 study places on two sites, the library can accommodate up to 60 external researchers, which means the places are used around 10,000 times a year. Nevertheless, visits must sometimes be planned depending on our capacity. As far as the digital age goes, the digitalization of material is set to increase further, but online services will not replace the printed word or work here on site in the foreseeable future. Librarians must always be receptive to innovation if they want to support knowledge acquisition as highly competent information specialists and not just as managers of printed material.
It will become increasingly challenging to maintain an overview of the wide range of databases as every major publishing house worldwide in the field of law has its own digital services with their own interfaces. No global player exists as in the sciences.
The digital age also presents very new challenges for the library. We can offer support to researchers who want to make their publications available via open access. In addition, we are constantly improving our online services. The aim here is to allow various resources, such as specialist databases, library catalogues and online sources, to be accessed via one portal. In order to overcome challenges in terms of technology, content and finance, as librarians we collaborate closely with other institute libraries within the Max Planck Society and the Max Planck Digital Library.
Thank you very much, Mr. Weber, for the interview.
The interview was conducted by Barbara Abrell and Christina Beck.