Libraries in Germany
Whenever I visit a new city, I must check out their public libraries. Big cities such as Beijing or Vancouver have libraries with crazy designs. They look magnificent, sophisticated and modern. Libraries in small cities like Kitchener-Waterloo are relatively low-profile on the outside, but still have great selection of books and magazines. They just say so much about the city as a whole.
I visited two libraries in Berlin, and they left me with really nice impressions.
Berliner Stadtbibliothek (Berlin City Library)
From the outside it doesn’t look as fancy as I expected, but I can tell the design is thoroughly refined. The entrance door is the most interesting library door I’ve ever seen. They are all letter “a” or the word/character corresponding to ‘a’ in other languages (I can see Chinese, Japanese and Korean).
I speculated that this implies the library has books in languages all over the world. And I was right, I found some English and Chinese ones.
Inside the library there is a really spacious and clean lounge, where people can talk or relax.
Like any libraries, there are study zones. It was interesting to find that the majority of the people there looked like college students. Usually libraries are filled with senior people, but not this one. I especially like that the study zone is super well illuminated. It is a mixure of natural light and stress-free shadow-free light, which makes it a perfect place for studying.
Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin State Library)
This is the library that blew my mind. The outside isn’t as fancy as the one in Vancouver, but it’s a much bigger building than the one above.
As a visitor, I wasn’t allowed to use the library service, such as reading or borrowing a book, using the internet, or even picking a seat and sitting down. People need to swipe their library cards to get in, and I was lucky enough to be issued a special visitor card. I was told that they limit the number of visitors per day and they have special guided tours on Fridays.
The interior is so fancy. This is the best looking library I’ve been to. Words couldn’t describe how awesome this place is, I’ll just let photos do the talking.
Interestingly, the library also serves as a tiny museum where there are signs and open places where they show off the challenges the library has faced and how they dealt with them. This sign, “Paper decaying - the timed bomb in the library”, explains the situation with old books. Something like this is not usually seen in libraries, but it serves well with its purpose - knowledge sharing.
Studying in the library
I studied in the first library for several hours, just to experience what it’s like to be surrounded by real local people. Comparing to all the tourist sites, the library is perhaps the most German place I’ve been to, since tourists don’t go there, and no English is necessary. When I was studying there, it was extremely quiet, much quieter than the average library I’ve been to. Unless there are people coming or leaving, it just felt like I was the only one in the room. There wasn’t anyone whispering, anyone who forgets to plug in headphones, or anyone who uses headphones but maximizes the volume so others could hear the music. Everyone must have really high self discipline. Thanks to the excellent environment, my study day was worth it. I got 13 marks higher than the average score in the exam I had to write right after the trip at 1-3am Berlin time (with jetlag).
What’s the deal?
Libraries aren’t usually a tourist thing, but they play an important role in the society. When a city spends so many resources and care to build and maintain a public service like the library, it says a lot about its citizens, its communities, and the city as a whole.
At a library, everyone can learn. No matter how poor or rich you are, you feel insignificant in front of the sea of knowledge. The better the library is, the more the city values knowledge and education. The greater the needs for a library is, the higher the average literacy rate and education level of the city is.
The efforts in running the city library is a key factor for me to determine whether I like this city or not, and in some cases, whether I’d like to relocate to this city in the long run. Who doesn’t like to be surrounded by knowledgeable people who like to read books?