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Springer collection returns to its roots

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Renate Bayaz of Springer explains some of the challenges involved in moving the company's large historical collection to the Central and Regional Library in Berlin

A legacy is a valuable thing, but it also comes with plenty of responsibility. It must be passed on in a condition that allows future generations to comprehend its value and importance.

The STM publisher Springer can look back on a long history. In 1842 the company’s founder, Julius Springer, opened a bookstore in Berlin, and then began to devote himself to publishing activities. He experimented quite a bit and included almost all genres in his programme. As a politically-active member of society, he published political writings, included literature for young people as well as educational titles, and published forestry and pharmaceutical works. He also corresponded with important German authors of the time, such as Jeremias Gotthelf and Theodor Fontane.

His sons and grandsons continued developing the business, taking on much more specialised and scientific works and helping to make Springer the global publisher of scientific and professional works that it is today.

The Springer family obviously did not just have an entrepreneurial bent, but also had a strong sense of tradition and responsibility. Since the beginning, everything to do with bookselling and publishing activities was collected and archived. The result, after almost 170 years of activity, is a huge historical archive.

The collection includes the correspondence archive consisting of more than 10,000 file folders. It also has more than 15,000 books published by Springer up to 1945 and about 3,000 books from other publishers that had been acquired over the years. In addition, the collection contains some 1,250 journal series and more than 5,000 files containing reviews, translation files and company records.

Especially valuable are the documents that will be an additional source for company and publishing histories. Works that contain dedications are additional gems in the collection. Digital material, however, is not part of the collection, since it all dates from pre-digital days.

The archive contains 170 years of history

Until now, this collection has had its home in Heidelberg. According to a German saying, ‘you should never transplant an old tree’. In this case, though, you should! The archive is now being transferred to an institution that will give it not only the best care, but also will help ensure that the archive is accessible to future generations. Its new home, the Central and Regional Library (ZLB) in Berlin, is not only one of the leading state libraries, it also happens to be located on the same street where Julius Springer began his bookstore in 1842. The archive is literally returning to its roots.

Moving in stages

The move from Springer’s Heidelberg offices to Berlin is taking place in various stages. The first batch of documents to be transferred contains a large amount of correspondence from and to Springer authors, including many famous figures from the 1920s. These include Einstein, Born, Sauerbruch, Courant, Hilbert, Ehrlich, Meitner, Hahn and Prinzhorn. Other valuable documents from the early, fiction-publishing years include handwritten letters from Fontane and Gotthelf. The first delivery includes the oldest author correspondence from 1842 up to 1936. The remaining documents will be moved during a second stage scheduled for later this year.

The decision to move the collection stems from a conversation between Claus Michaletz, a former managing director at Springer and Claudia Lux, the ZLB’s director general. Derk Haank, CEO of Springer Science+Business Media, agreed to the donation provided that the collection remained together in its entirety and was made accessible to the public. The agreement was signed in 2008 and an analysis of how to move it, what needed to be restored and treated, and when the transfer would take place, followed.

Claudia Lux said: ‘The library is delighted that this important historical collection is returning to Berlin and feels particularly honoured that Springer has entrusted the library with this task.’

Derk Haank said: ‘By donating Springer’s archive to the ZLB in Berlin, the company is entrusting this valuable historical treasure to an institution that specialises in professionally restoring and maintaining historical documents and in making them available to the public. This second point is important to us and we are certain that the library’s competent staff will be excellent guardians. We hope that present-day and future historians will find the collection useful.’

Transfer with care

With the Springer Historical Archive, the ZLB is taking on a considerable task. The order of the documents must be maintained so a “one-to-one” transfer must be made. The ZLB’s professional staff has considerable experience in such transfers. Since the collection is historical, it does not fall under the requirements of deposit. Inasmuch as Springer deposit titles are present in the ZLB’s collection, the archive simply completes the collection.

Derk Haank, CEO of Springer Science+Business Media and Claudia Lux, director general of the Central and Regional Library in Berlin shake hands on the new arrangement for Springer’s archive

Due to the age of the collection – and the fragility of some of the documents and materials – most of the collection, before it is delivered to the ZLB in Berlin, will initially be taken to Leipzig, where a specialist firm will undertake restoration and preservation work. Temperature and humidity are key factors to be controlled in order to maintain such a collection for the future, and the ZLB is well placed to guarantee the professional storage of the archive.

The donation of the Springer Historical Archive to the ZLB means that it will eventually be accessible to the public, unlike before when the archive was locked and only opened upon demand, and then only rarely. Interested persons will be able to access the documents under the general rules of the ZLB either in the reading room for some material, or in the Historical Collection area. The components of the Springer archives cannot, however, be lent – only Springer has the right to borrow from the archives for exhibitions. Nonetheless, future historians will now have the ability to delve deeply into the background of one of the leading scientific publishers in the world.

Renate Bayaz is corporate communications manager for Springer Science+Business Media

Delving into company history

Another decision that historians should welcome was to make the two volumes of the official Springer company history (in both English and German) available to any reader for free as an e-book. The two-volume work Springer-Verlag: History of a Scientific Publishing House was published in 1992 to mark the publishing company’s 150th anniversary. The company history has been available on Springer’s website since the beginning of May 2009.

Springer’s development is presented chronologically in historical context, and includes sections on the German Revolution, World War I and the position of the publishing house during the National Socialist dictatorship, when at times Springer was only able to continue its publishing activities through a ‘straw man’. The Springer story continues up to international expansion.