Paradigm, No. 22 (May, 1997)

The Library of the Council School (Ratsschulbibliothek) in Zwickau, Saxony

John Walmsley

Universität Bielefeld,
Fakultät für Linguistik und Literaturwissen-schaft,
Postfach 10 01 31,
D-33501 Bielefeld, Germany

One of the positive results of German reunification has been greater freedom to travel in former Eastern bloc countries (not Just the former German Democratic Republic -- GDR), and improved access to library collections. Zwickau had the reputation of having a large -- if not the largest -- collection of textbooks in the former GDR. Unfortunately, however, as in the case of the Forschungs- und Landesbibliothek (FLB) Gotha, the library did not have (and still does not have) an adequate published catalogue. It might be useful, therefore, for members of the Colloquium to learn more about the nature of the collections in Zwickau, their history and state of repair,

Zwickau lies between Gera and Chemnitz on the route between Frankfurt and Dresden. The holdings of the Ratsschulbibliothek comprise about 90,000 titles, including approximately 1,200 incunables, about 26,000 16th-century and 52,000 17th-century works. The library also holds about 200 mss., which have been properly catalogued.1

The collection exhibits a number of interesting features. The Council School Library (Ratsschulbibliothek) grew from a Latin school which was not at first a grammar school (or Gymnasium), but which was established independently of the Church in 1291. The wealth of Zwickau (based on silver) enabled the town to engage teachers of ability, who attracted pupils from other parts of Saxony. The earliest dated book in the library contains an inscription by its donor, Bernhard Schauenpfennig, to the effect that it was presented to the library (hence already in existence) of the Zwickau Gymnasium on 17th. February 1498. In 1537 the Rector Petrus Plateanus described the library as a ‘bibliotheca publica’ -- the first of its kind in Saxony.

The library benefited from three significant collections made by people born in or otherwise connected with Zwickau: Stephan Roth (1492&endash;1546), Johann Zechendorf (1580-1662) and Christian Daum (1612&endash;87), Both Roth and Daum were almost obsessive collectors of books and papers. Roth bequeathed 6,000 volumes and 4,000 letters to the library in his will. Zechendorf, an orientalist who was head of the school after Roth but before Daum, also left his collection of books to the school library, and Daum’s private collection was bought by the Town Council in 1694. This comprised about 7,800 volumes (including some which had been in the personal possession of Martin Luther) and about 6,000 letters, together with about 34,000 occasional prints (Gelegenheitsschriften) such as Epithalamia, other congratulatory poems, and the Leichenpredigten which were traditionally preached at the funeral of prominent citizens, and published.

The significance of these 16th- and 17th-century collections is brought home when one considers that in some cases they exceed in magnitude those of illustrious nobles: August of Saxony’s library numbered 2,354 volumes in 1580, and the Duke of Wolfenbüttel’s somewhat over 5,000 in 1614, and these were much greater than those available in many universities. In 1596 the library of the Philosophical Faculty in Rostock numbered about 540 volumes2. Luckily, and unlike many other European libraries, that in Zwickau has come through all the wars in its long history virtually unscathed,

This brief historical outline gives some idea of the main emphases in the collection. The 1746 catalogue contains 54 headings, many with further subdivisions. They cover mainly Philology (22 sections), Philosophy (12 sections), Theology (9 sections) and Law (5 sections). There are also, however, sections on Mathematics, Geography, Chronology, History, [Libri] ‘Antiquarii’, and Medicine. The main emphases of the library are reflected not only in the structure of the catalogue, but also in the number of titles each section.

From about 1890&endash;1895/96 a card-index catalogue was set up, and new acquisitions are of course catalogued according to modem methods. Access to books up to the mid-eighteenth century is via a Subject Catalogue (1746, 2 ms. vols.) or the card-index (alphabetical by author), both on microfiche. Unfortunately, the quality of the 1746 catalogue is so uneven that it has not been considered advisable to enter it on an electronic database. Instead, the collection will have to be recatalogued from scratch, which is why a number of the figures above can only be approximate. In pursuit of this goal, two projects are currently financed by the German Research Council (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft). One is to catalogue the Christian Daum bequest.3 The other is to catalogue the Gelegen-heitsschriften. The latter task is expected to be completed in 1998. For the bulk of the printed works, however, it is not possible to make a prediction.

Information can be obtained from the Direktor, Ratsschulbibliothek Zwickau, Lessingstrasse 1, D-08058 Zwickau, Germany.



1. Schipke, 1990.
2. Kordes and Walmsley, 1995, p. 146.
3. cf. Nagel, 1996.


Kordes, U. and Walmsley, J. ‘Eine verschollene Gelehrtenbibliothek Zum Buchbesitz Wolfgang Ratkes um 1620’. Wolfenbütteler Notizen zur Buchgeschichte 20 (1995), pp. 133-71.

Nagel, D. ‘Der handschriftliche Nachlass von Christian Daum in der Ratsschulbibliothek Zwickau’. Wolfenbütteler Barock-Nachrichten 23 (1996), pp. 28-32,

Nagel, D., Leistner, K. and Zürner, I. ‘Catalogue to the exhibition Historisch wertvolle Handschriften und Drucke aus dem Bestand der Ratsschulbibliothek Zwickau’ [7.12.1995-8.1.1996 Dortmund] (Dortmund: Stadt-und-Landesbibliothek,1995).

Schipke, R.Die mittelalterlichen Handschriften der Ratsschulbibliothek Zwickau ed. H. E. Teitge (Berlin: Deutsche Staatsbibliothek Handschrifteninventar, No. 13, 1990).

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