A Little About Max Planck*

I am spending a month on an academic exchange at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law in Hamburg. This is a researcher’s heaven. There is a library of nearly 500,000 volumes covering about 200 (yes, 200!!) jurisdictions, with legislation, caselaw, journals, and monographs available for use in the library. The major databases, including key European West databases, are available to researchers. Every researcher has an allocated desk or office.

There are perhaps 100 users of the facilities at any one time, from all around the world. They are not here to undertake a specific degree, although many come here for some part of their studies elsewhere, to use the resources, or meet with the academics based here. There are doctorate students who research here, but they are supervised by and awarded their degrees by their supervisor’s home institution.

The library has recently been extended, and is in immaculate condition, well cared for, totally a reference-only library, and, once identified on the catalogue, the materials are easy to locate, with a classification scheme that is based on jurisdictions, is easy to understand and use. Many researchers are given after-hours access to the library, and the honour system seems to work well.

The library director is Prof. Dr Holger Knudson, and among other things, he is currently Chair of the Law Libraries section of IFLA, after years of involvement with IALL, including some years as President. You can see him speaking about the Library on Youtube.

The Max Planck Society comprises some 80 institutes, mainly scientific, but including the following areas of law:

Collective Goods, Bonn
Intellectual Property, Munich
European Legal History, Frankfurt/Main
Comparative and International Private Law, Hamburg
Foreign and International Criminal Law, Freiburg
Comparative Public Law and International Law, Heidelberg
Foreign and International Social Law, Munich

Holger tells me that the Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg has a larger collection, but it operates on a stack request system, which in my opinion is not as user friendly as the ability to wander the stacks in person!

The Max Planck Society is a registered association, independent of, but largely funded by the federal and state governments. Its role is to perform research in the interest of the general public in the natural sciences, life sciences, social sciences, and the humanities. “In particular, the Max Planck Society takes up new and innovative research areas that German universities are not in a position to accommodate or deal with adequately. These interdisciplinary research areas often do not fit into the university organization, or they require more funds for personnel and equipment than those available at universities.”

The MPI Society was formerly known as the Kaiser Wilhelm Gesellschaft (KWG, Kaiser Wilhelm Society) and was founded in 1911, its purpose being to promote the sciences in Germany, specifically by founding and maintaining research institutions independent from the state. It was renamed to Max Planck Society in 1946.

We sometimes overlook the great law libraries in Europe, and the wealth of their resources. There is much to learn from them, and a little tour just of their websites should whet a law librarian’s appetite for a cook’s tour of Europe!

*Max Planck was famous German physicist, Nobel Laureate and founder of the quantum theory

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