Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

International Conference on Dublin Core and Metadata Applications

Greeting at the 23rd September 2008

Dear Norbert Lossau, dear colleagues,

it is with the greatest pleasure that I welcome you here in Berlin in the name of Humboldt-Universität as well as our esteemed partners who participated in the organisation of this conference: the Competence Centre for Interoperable Metadata, the Max-Planck Digital Library, the Göttingen State and University Library and the German National Library.

I am deeply honoured that you have come to Humboldt-Universität for this important annual event, and I hope that you will find many things of interest to you in the vicinity of this institution in between the interesting workshops that await you. There is not need to go very far to see that Berlin is modernizing its libraries: if you exit the building of Humboldt-Universität where you are now via the front and turn right, you will soon see that the rear of Berlin's Prussian state library is being renovated and modernised. And if you leave this building via the rear exit, veer to the left and proceed under the railway's arches, you will see a building under construction, the future Jacob und Wilhelm Grimm-Zentrum, Humboldt-Universität's new main and Germany's largest open access library, where students, researchers and members of the public will have round-the-clock access to over 1.5 million books. Should you have the time to stop and ponder the construction works, you might have one or two useful ideas for the modernisation of our libraries, which we would be more than happy to take on board.

But as you can see from the organisers who represent not only Berlin, but also Munich, Frankfurt am Main, Leipzig and Göttingen, Germany's capital is not the only place that welcomes you and looks forward to your expertíse and the outcomes of your conference. For there is one area where we in Germany are once again seriously lagging behind the English-speaking parts of the world: open access - the digitalisation of books and their distribution via the internet.

At this point, I have to make a confession - for a long time I was with those traditional German Professors, who were more or less strictly against open access and e-libraries. Before I repent, I would like to explain my former reasons. I had two great concerns about the principles that underlie open access. My one concern was quality: if a manuscript is good, it probably will find a publisher. If the book excels, it will sell thousands of copies and bring its author fame. But any fool, I reasoned, can publish his or her work online. The market, I feared would be flooded with substandard texts and we would not be able to discern what's good and what's not any more. At the same time, and this was my second concern, while these mediocre publications were going to swamp the market and be available for free, I asked myself: who is going to secure all those traditional publishing houses, which we owe so many wonderful books and other printings, which have undertook the risks of printing young beginners' first books and became a kind of partner during a whole academic life. These are some of the well known arguments in defence of quality and culture, which lead a traditional German professor from the field of the humanities to hesitate over the whole open access movement.

When I say all this, I speak of myself in the past, not because I am such a polite man or intend to humour the contents of this conference. I believe it was one of the Marx Brothers who said: these are my principles, and if you don't like them, I have others. Normally, conversion was initiated by some talks and some experiences - and this was the case with me. One day, during preparation of a University course, I asked my student assistant to do a fernleihe (interlending, if I am correct) and bring an extremely rare small printing of an ancient Ethiopian text, printed in Göttingen in the early 19th century rapidly to my desk. But he refused to fill in the fernleihe interlending sheet and typed the google book address into the computer instead - and, indeed, the small printing was digitalized by Harvard University Library and brought immediately to my desk without any dely. This was when I considered the wonderful words open access once again, and suddenly realised what they stood for: making knowledge available and accessible for all who want to learn.

There are obviously some more German professors who we must convince or invite to convert. At the moment, every 10th page in a German digital book is missing - probably you'll find that it's always the page you needed. For a historian of Greek and Roman Religion it's a pity that often the editions of Greek and Latin texts are missing and only the prefaces are accessible in the internet. We do not need less, but more online, so we have to come up to speed with the rest. I consider the fact that this important conference is held in Germany in 2008 a first step in this direction and a vital sign on your part that you do not consider Germany too much behind the rest for hosting your conference here. In this regard, I wish you a very pleasant and profitable stay at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin!


Abteilung Kommunikation, Marketing und Veranstaltungsmanagement (VIII)