Goethe-Institut Inter Nationes: German Foreign Cultural Policy within the Field of Library & Information Services

WESS Newsletter

Vol. 25, No. 2 (Spring, 2002)

Goethe-Institut Inter Nationes: German Foreign Cultural Policy within the Field of Library & Information Services

By Marilen Daum and Shawn Whatley

“If the time for the Goethe-Institut is not now, then it never will be.” This statement by journalist Heinrich Wefing appeared in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on November 8, 2001. It refers to the effects the September 11 attack had on German foreign cultural policy, which is suddenly at the forefront of many peoples’ minds. The German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, has referred to German foreign cultural policy as a “policy of peace”. Worldwide, the Goethe-Institut has developed programs to help combat terrorism and to improve the dialogue between the Islamic world and the west. In many institutes, such as Istanbul, this has already been an emphasis for many years. From the costly new Anti-Terror package unveiled by the German government, only a small percentage of funds will be allocated to the promotion of foreign cultural policy; Joschka Fischer, therefore, has been portrayed by some as being “kulturresistent”, or resistant to cultural matters.

The new German government, which came to power in 1998, proves to be just as stringent as the previous government when it comes to saving money and cutting costs. The Foreign Office, which administers the Goethe-Institut’s budget, has shown fiscal restraint in the years since reunification. What changed however, under the new government, is the tendency for cultural institutions such as the Goethe-Institut to compete with other organizations for funding and grants. An example of this is the merging of the Goethe-Institut with Inter Nationes. For many years Inter Nationes has had the task of producing teaching materials for students and teachers in foreign countries, as well as distributing feature and documentary films, sponsoring study visits to Germany and funding translation initiatives (http://www.inter-nationes.de/). The merger of Inter Nationes with the Goethe-Institut in Munich has produced advantageous results in that the material produced is more oriented towards informational needs abroad through the extensive network of Goethe-Institutes worldwide.

One important objective of the newly-formed “Goethe-Institut Inter Nationes” is to convey an all-around image of Germany by providing information on culture, society and politics, through which the libraries of the Goethe-Institutes can hope to gain a position of even greater value. However, due to monetary cutbacks in government, the network of Goethe-Institut libraries will not be widened, but rather regrouped to accommodate changing areas of emphasis in the area of library and information work. This development was introduced with the adoption of a new mission statement in 1998. Since this time the profiles of our libraries have changed somewhat. The library is no longer simply a source for information about Germany; our stated purpose is now more comprehensive and includes being a cooperative partner with other libraries, library organizations and related groups, especially those that deal with German-language materials and information. Library cooperation entails a lot, from the development of study trips to Germany to taking part in library conferences. Decidedly, the libraries of the Goethe-Institut now have in place the resources needed to be actively involved in liaison work with the library community.

What consequences does the new strategy have for the work of the Institutes in the USA?

In order to answer this question, one must look at the developments over the past few years. The libraries of the Goethe-Institut in Boston, Los Angeles, Houston and San Francisco had to be closed. In the early 1990s, our libraries in the US found themselves in a dilemma. They were forced to deal with the constant decline of a German-speaking public as well as a decreasing interest in German-related subjects. Most readers only used the libraries on a one-time basis, and therefore it became difficult to build an ongoing reading public. In addition, the number of library-related requests no longer justified their existence since many users would make contact with the Goethe-Institut electronically as opposed to visiting in person. The Goethe-Institut libraries in the US made the decision to enter OCLC as a means of increasing their circulation and users; in addition, more English-language materials were procured to help attract a broader spectrum of patrons. Compared to other Goethe-Institut libraries worldwide, those in the US were extremely underutilized; in this light, it would seem unwise to reopen in most cities as one-person, scaled-down libraries. Instead, we would like to extend services in our existing libraries, each institute having its own specific focus. The Goethe-Institut still has libraries in Chicago and New York, as well as one in Atlanta, which is operated by a group called the “Friends of Goethe”.

Areas of emphasis for the institutes in Chicago and New York

Regional Coordination of Translation Initiatives: For many years Inter Nationes supported the translation of German-language books into foreign languages. Through the integration with Inter Nationes, the institutes abroad will play a more active role in deciding which titles should be translated. In the future, American publishers interested in translating German works will be able to apply for funds through the local Goethe-Institut. The applications will then be forwarded on to the head office in Munich. In addition to this, the institute in Chicago awards the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translation Prize annually to one English translation of a German-language text (http://www.goethe.de/uk/chi/wolff.htm). The Goethe-Institut Chicago thus houses a comprehensive collection of Wolff-Prize submissions in the original German as well as translations thereof. The Goethe Institut in Chicago also played a decisive role in the founding of the “American Center for Translation” at the Lilly Library in Bloomfield, Indiana, established on February 19th of this year.

New York:
Regional Information Center for the Goethe-Institutes in the USA: The library in New York is set up to accommodate internal information requests as well as answering reference questions from the general public. At the moment, most queries are received by telephone or email. In the future, a toll-free number will be established. This number can be used by the public and by the other institutes for referring to the New York library for information. Furthermore, real-time digital information service is being planned as well as an extension of library hours so that service can be provided on weekends.

Regional Center for the Promotion of New German Literature: The library in New York will no longer broadly collect German-language material, rather, the library’s focus will be an ongoing exhibit of new literature from the German-language book market. This exhibit will encompass all genres, spanning fiction, non-fiction, children’s and young adult literature; books receiving special attention and critical acclaim in Germany and the US and that will appeal to an American audience will be promoted. The exhibit will be updated in the spring and fall, coinciding with the book fairs in Leipzig and Frankfurt respectively. A selection of these titles will be offered on our web site as the “Showcase for New German Books” (http://www.goethe.de/uk/ney/showcase/index.htm). In an effort to increase awareness, the exhibit in New York will be opened in the fall with an organized event, tentatively featuring a German and an American literary critic speaking on the topic, “Highlights of the Frankfurt Book Fair.” A German publishing house and some of its authors will also be invited. In addition, we will begin to focus on four specialized areas for collection development: modern German history, German film, new German literature and fine arts, as well as the development of a comprehensive reference section.

Regional Center for Cooperative Library Work: The continual building of contacts with the American library community, such as WESS or the international office of the ALA, will be strongly encouraged. The Goethe-Institut receives many requests from German librarians regarding internship opportunities and study trips in the US. We work closely with Bibliothek & Information International, the organization in Germany which supports international exchange efforts and is the starting point for securing financial aid. In concrete terms, the New York library will participate in the following activities in 2002:

  • “Libraries running out of Space” / by Klaus Kempf and Jürgen Heeg. The German contribution to the ALA Conference in Atlanta
  • Study visit for young professionals, who are WESS members, to Germany in summer 2002. Funds for this project have recently been secured through B&I International and the Goethe-Institut Inter Nationes New York. Further details to follow.
  • Study trip to the US by German Public Library Directors from October 28 to November 2, 2002 in conjunction with the ALA and B&I International.

Regional Feature Film and Documentary Film Depot: The Goethe-Institut New York has taken over distribution of Inter Nationes 16mm films and videos, which were handled by West Glen in the past. In addition, the head office of the Goethe-Institut in Munich has acquired the lending rights for certain films, which are exclusively available through the Goethe-Institut libraries. These videos are especially of value to us, since they are unavailable through any other institution in America. As well, we buy videos from a variety of different sources here in the US (Facets, etc.). We are confident that by the end of the year we will have successfully integrated the Inter Nationes film collection into our own catalog and will then be able to offer a comprehensive listing of our video material.

The Goethe-Institut Library Team

In Chicago and Atlanta, the libraries are maintained with one staff member; the New York library received funding for an additional librarian to do cooperative work and special projects within the library. As a result, there are 3 full-time and one part-time staff members in New York. It is our hope to have the outlined changes and additions to the library and information service of the Goethe-Institut completed by 2004. In the meantime we will be sure to keep WESS members aware of our projects through the listserv and we look forward to meeting WESS members at the ALA conference in Atlanta.

Shawn Whatley is reference librarian and Marilen Daum is library director and regional coordinator for library and information services at the Goethe-Institut Inter Nationes New York.