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Michael Klein, Leibniz-Gemeinschaft, Bonn

""Distributed Collecting"? Strategies for Archive Networking in Germany"

In Germany, national collections are nearly not practicable because of the cultural sovereignty of the federal states. Nevertheless, the topics of many particular collections are of nationwide interest. In this situation it is possible to show that "distributed collecting" is not only a make-shift but a new strategy for archives: Building networks of archives with distributed purposes and focuses and a joint collecting policy. The Leibniz Gemeinschaft, as a nationwide network of scientific institutes, archives and research museums, can be an example for this new strategy where diversity and variety are not a deficit but a strength in the process of developing an integrated modular system of nationally relevant collections.

Before commenting on "distributed collecting" as a strategy, I should like to briefly recall some of the fundamental conditions characterising the German archive system:

1. In the archive management the federal structure of the Federal Republic of Germany is also reflected. This means that - besides the Federal Government (the Bund) - there are 16 federal states, or "Bundesländer', each with its own statehood and its own traditions. In the national archive management we shall thus find the documents of the respective state governments such as Bavaria or North Rhine-Westphalia beneath the level of Federal Authorities.

2. Besides this political level, the German archive system is structured along factual groups, that is, state-run archives, business archives, and archives run by universities or scientific institutions.

3. As set up in our Constitutional Law, cultural sovereignty rests with the federal states, not with the Federal Government. In terms of culture - to be quite concrete, in all matters concerning archives as well - the Federal Government only has the authority to decide on the policy to be pursued. This means that it may, at best, define guidelines and provisions, the actual realisation of cultural policy including relevant issues and topics, however, lying within the jurisdiction of the federal states.

4. Unlike "classical" documents for which there are clear-cut competences within the archives, collections like residues, scripts, technical drawings, photographs, maps and schemes, audiovisual aids, software, and so on cannot automatically be allocated to a specific archive institution.

5. Besides state-run scientific institutions there are numerous research institutions in Germany which receive state funds but are not embedded into federal organisation and which, accordingly, do not pass on documents or collections to state-run archives; this holds true, for example, for institutes associated with the Max Planck Society or the Leibniz Gemeinschaft. Except for the professionally led Max Planck Archive, there is no centralised collective depot for these institutions.

6. Due to the present situation of the public budget and the adjunctive austerity measures, state-run archives are hardly able to meet their responsibilities, let alone acquire extensive collections of all kinds which are adequate to the scientific-technical culture in Germany.


From this it follows that there is no definite and comprehensible responsibility for collections in general. Some institutions conduct archiving according to the interests and preferences of the respective archivist or librarian. As a second consequence, in the area of present scientific research, our sources - and, thus, part of Germany's culture - will face a serious loss. The same holds true for other European countries.

So far a review of the present situation. Let us now consider the Leibniz Gemeinschaft as a model for a decentralised network of collections.

Throughout the Federal Republic of Germany, 84 non-university research institutes, specialised libraries, archives and service facilities for research are associated with the Leibniz Gemeinschaft. The orientation of Leibniz Institutes ranges from natural sciences, engineering and environmental research through economics, regional infrastructure research and social sciences to humanities and life sciences. The institutes pursue an interdisciplinary approach and combine fundamental research with a demand-oriented approach. They keep close cooperation with universities, industry and other partners at home and abroad. Each of the Leibniz Institutes performs a task of national significance in the scientific-political sector and, thus, of nationwide relevance. For this reason, the institutes' work is jointly funded by both the Federal Government and all federal states. Leibniz Institutes, in total, employ about 12,500 employees and manage an overall budget of 950 million Euros. The Leibniz Gemeinschaft is characterised by a large variety of research institutes, sometimes described as being little homogeneous. It is this diversity which presents a unique chance as well, as I will illustrate by the following.

At present, there is a discussion within the Leibniz Gemeinschaft whether it is reasonable to develop, via the specific Leibniz Institutes, a network of collections of scientific and technical documents which might contribute to absorb the loss of parts of the German culture. It is not intended to change the situation of archives in Germany, but to supplement it in an important aspect. The various institutes, thus, would - besides their original research assignment - assume a public function within the framework of archiving collections. This may represent a first approach of a joint strategy which may, best of all, be called "distributed collecting" and which is aimed at contributing to the solution of the above mentioned problems regarding the archiving of national cultural assets.

The object of this endeavour, however, should be sufficiently transparent in order to ensure the appropriate effectiveness and acceptance, in other words: in order to constitute a lasting strategy for the solution of given problems. It is thus necessary and a central responsibility for our country to formulate a balanced, at least a generally known, policy of collecting which will help to promote systematically inventories and to place them in appropriate institutions comprising the appropriate know-how. Since there is no centralised competency, there will be a distributed acquisition of collection in future as well. It is of utmost importance to optimise the knowledge of, and accessibility to, the distributed collections via a common portal, via interfaces, and so on. A joint responsibility for the specific functional groups which is also comprehensible for third parties such as funders or the German Research Foundation would not only strengthen the respective collecting institution but also facilitate third-party funding for indexing.

In my opinion, the Leibniz Gemeinschaft appears particularly qualified for the approach of a national strategy of collecting which I have outlined as "distributed collecting". Under this umbrella organisation, diverse research institutes are assembled which pursue different foci, each archiving their various research findings and various collections. We have thus the chance of covering a wide range in cooperation with the respective collecting institutes; at least, we will be in a position to develop, and advance, clearly definable priorities of collecting. It is the policy of 'Special Subject Collection' of the German Research Foundation which could serve as a role model for having specific areas of responsibilities covered by specific institutions. In this connection, The Leibniz Gemeinschaft, on April 5 [2005], saw the formation of a 'Working Group Archives' which is intended to contribute to the internal cross-linking of archives and to the development of a joint strategy of networking.

There are three features characterising the Leibniz Gemeinschaft as an example for the chances of "Distributed Collection":

In the first place, there is the diversity of research disciplines. The investigation of ancient and modem history is just as inherent within the Leibniz Gemeinschaft as is medical or neurobiological research; the analysis of educational systems just as conversant as the material innovations in the field of nanotechnology; and the processing of data for the development of social structures just as familiar as the worldwide cross-linking of innovative mathematical research. This means: all 84 Leibniz Institutes with their wide range of disciplines form a unique scientific network that will cover nearly every research topic addressing our society, and, through their work, they document the whole scope of background knowledge, present phenomena and future consequences of cultural, scientific, political and economic developments. Diversity as a programme - this is one of the characteristics of the Leibniz Gemeinschaft which presents the work of its institutes and their research outcome as an ideal basis for a strategy of "distributed collecting".

This leads us to a second, closely connected, feature of the Leibniz Gemeinschaft: its programmatic mission. All Leibniz Institutes align with two guidelines which substantially characterise their work: the social relevance of their research and the nationwide interest in the institutes' work. The institutes' fields of work are stipulated by the Federal Government and the federal states as the financial contributors and will thus conform to superordinate, non-particular research interests of the Government. Furthermore, the institutes do not carry out their research as a kind of l’art pour l’art. Instead, they are working in areas of national social significance, areas closely connected to the most important focal points which have characterised - and will continue to characterise - German society and its current debates. This means: due to their respective mandates, the activities of the Leibniz Institutes in their whole diversity add up to a mosaic which, by the very cross-linking of individual components, is generating an overall picture of the present state of our society. Each institute pursues a mandate of nationwide interest which is unique and individual - as a whole, they cover nearly the entire scientific and social spectrum in Germany. In this respect, the institutes' cumulative inventories form a modular system of nationally relevant, individual "collections" which, through their cross-linkage, at the same time comply with their mandate concerning society as a whole.

The third feature of the Leibniz Gemeinschaft, eventually, is its accumulation of associated museums, specialised archives and special libraries. Seven research museums, such as the German Museum in Munich, the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt on the Main, or the German Mining Museum in Bochum, compile inventories of collections which do not only cover the historical eras of various topical relations, but also a wide tableau of contemporary and future-oriented issues. They are supplemented by the large scientific libraries and archives - for example, the German National Library of Medicine in Cologne, the Hamburg Institute of International Economics, or the German National Library of Science and Technology in Hanover - along with the Leibniz Service Facilities, such as the Sci-Tech Information Centre in Karlsruhe. They all provide knowledge and information for interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research, stepping beyond specialist knowledge, partly spanning centuries, and operating on various structural levels with a high degree of complexity and cross-linking. To put it briefly: the Leibniz Museums, Specialised Archives and Special Libraries depict places where, on the one hand, a nationwide and, at the same time, decentralised policy of collecting such as the strategy of "distributed collecting" has become a reality and where, on the other hand, this strategy may be expanded systematically along a modular system.

These three features of the Leibniz Gemeinschaft illustrate one thing: the archives associated in the Leibniz Gemeinschaft (above all, the museums and, additionally, the institutes with their large collections) might constitute a network of "distributed collecting", the diversity of which is not an invincible barrier, but rather a structural and conceptual programme. The topical specialities of the various archives within our Association, in this way, could develop into a first comprehensive national system of collecting - expandable on a modular basis and capable of including and associating other archiving systems in the future. The Leibniz Gemeinschaft, thus, has taken a first innovative step towards a nationwide, but at the same time decentralised, "policy of collecting"; a policy which is not only consistent with the programmatic mission of our Association, but also sees it fulfilled in an exemplary way, which will visualize this mission and which will provide its own policy coordinates.

To summarize: In the long run, a strategy like "distributed collecting" appears increasingly indispensable in Germany, since available means for the archiving of culturally relevant collections will decrease while, at the same time, an opening society and a globalising social environment will make it even more and more necessary to safeguard cultural inventories. A policy of "distributed collecting" would not be confined to collecting facilities like universities, academies, state-run archives et cetera, but could also involve wider groups of our society and economy. The Leibniz Gemeinschaft, in all its diversity, could serve as a forerunner - but it relies, and will continue to rely, on the broad support and the commitment of its Member Institutes. Generally speaking, the debate on such a strategy of "distributed collecting" is quite a new one. Like all novel debates, it lives on the participation of as many people as possible who are called to share their thoughts, their commitment and their knowledge and to transfer this idea into as many discussions as possible.




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