To many people, “city library” sounds as antiquated as “cassette recorder” or “encyclopedia.” Libraries remind people of their childhood. Some may recall narrow, gray rows of shelves, an enigmatic decimal system, and their first laminated library ID card. On second thought, maybe the old days weren’t that good.
But a visit to the Cologne Central Library will wow those who haven’t set foot in a library since high school. From the outside, it still looks like the same old concrete box it has always been. What lies behind its heavy glass doors, however, is completely new. Instead of waiting in line at check-out counters, library-goers can borrow and return books independently at the library’s electronic terminals. Finding a specific book, however, still remains a careful task.
“Our library has very little in common with libraries from the nineties,” says head librarian Hannelore Vogt. And her library’s success underlines her claim. Since Ms. Vogt took over seven years ago, the number of visitors has increased by over 60 percent. In 2015, the German Library Association honored the Cologne Public Library as the “Library of the Year.”
Her success is just the pinnacle of a nationwide trend in Germany. In recent years, German university libraries have also made gains based on the increase in students.
According to the German Library Association, there are 3,800 public libraries in Germany. These libraries, particularly in major cities, are seeing membership numbers and check-out rates surge. In 2014, German public libraries recorded 118 million visitors.