National library turns over a new page

The public can now enjoy more space at the national library. Marco Schibig

A new chapter in the history of the Swiss National Library in Bern has begun with the official opening of its 70-year-old premises after nearly a decade of renovation work.

This content was published on June 8, 2001 - 12:18

The exterior is largely unchanged because the library is in a protected building which is a remarkable example of late art nouveau architecture. But inside, it's a different story.

Three times more space is now open to the public, and the storage area for storing a massive collection of publications and documents has been extended to seven underground floors, with air conditioning and lighting appropriate for the conservation of printed materials.

But even as the renovation programme came to its official end, national library director Jean-Frédéric Jauslin was expressing concern about running out of storage space within the next few years. "The Swiss National Library can't be compared with any of its equivalent institutions in other countries," he told swissinfo.

"We are mandated to concentrate on Helvetica, in other words everything published in Switzerland and abroad which has a bearing on Switzerland. The quantity is enormous."

In fact the term "Helvetica" also includes daily newspapers, musical scores, dissertations and even telephone directories.

Stocks are growing by some 55,000 titles a year and the total number of documents is around 3.5 million. Jauslin says that when he became director, his top priority was the creation of more space: "We now have 70 kilometres of shelving, but already the documents have reached a level of about 55 kilometres.

"At the present rate we risk running out of space again as soon as 2006, and that's why more underground storage space is going to be made available on the other side of the building."

The "new" library is now heading towards the computerisation of its acquisitions, and one of the objectives is the microfilming and digitalisation of its collections.

by Richard Dawson

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