The future is digital – but paper remains: the Swiss National Library in 2012

Bern, 06.06.2013 - The Swiss National Library is establishing itself in the digital world, but is also continuing to develop its traditional remit. The newly published Annual Report 2012 shows how the NL has begun putting this dual orientation into practice.

“The future is digital. But paper remains.” That is the motto of the strategy adopted by the Swiss National Library (NL) for the years 2012 to 2019. At the heart of this dual orientation is the collection, which contains almost the entire range of “Helvetica” – everything published in or about Switzerland. At the end of 2012 it comprised 4.3 million books, newspapers and serials, posters, postcards, photographs and similar documents, as well as online publications such as electronic journals and websites. In addition to publications, the NL also collects literary and artists’ archives. There are currently 309 archives and literary estates in the Swiss Literary Archives (SLA) and 77 in the Prints and Drawings Department. The latter also holds the approximately 1.2 million documents that make up the Federal Archives of Historic Monuments.

Sharp increase in online publications

The overwhelming majority of the NL’s collections are held in underground stacks in Bern, where they are preserved for generations to come. The 18,336 units of online publications, however, are kept on electronic long-term storage media. This part of the collection is still small, but is growing rapidly: by over 50% between 2011 and 2012. In 2012, the NL also collected vote campaign websites for the first time. In future, thanks to a partnership with parliamentary services, the NL will archive one website for the campaign in favour and one for the campaign against in each popular vote.

Digitised newspapers in all four national languages

More and more printed publications are being subsequently converted into digital format and made available online. One key area is Swiss newspapers, which the NL prepares for Internet use in collaboration with the publishers and, often, another library. The St. Galler Zeitung (years 1831–1881), Il Grigione italiano (1852–1980) and Fögl dʼEngiadina (1887–1980), 24heures/Feuille dʼavis de Lausanne and the Schaffhauser Nachrichten went online in 2012. The digitised newspapers can be accessed either from the publishers’ own platforms or via The latter now contains newspapers in all four national languages.

Mobile application for catalogues

Three main catalogues provide access to the NL’s collections. Helveticat contains books, newspapers, serials and online publications. The holdings of the SLA and the Prints and Drawings Department are catalogued in HelveticArchives, while the posters in the Prints and Drawings Department are indexed in the Swiss Poster Catalogue. Since autumn 2012, both the latter and Helveticat have been available in a mobile version. The application enables access via iPhone, iPad or an Android 4.0 device. Functions include keyword search, ordering documents and access to the personal user account.

Successful dialect exhibition

Research projects, events, exhibitions and publications from the NL turn the spotlight on different parts of the collection. Sapperlot! Swiss Dialects proved to be the NL’s most successful exhibition since 1994. Larger exhibitions normally alternate annually between the headquarters in Bern and the NL’s external unit, the Centre Dürrenmatt Neuchâtel (CDN). Last year, the CDN concentrated on mounting smaller exhibitions – with subjects including Walter Jonas – and a diverse programme of events.

The Gugelmann Collection of “Kleinmeister” in Geneva

The exhibition The Enchanting Landscape in the Days of Jean-Jacques Rousseau at the Musée Rath in Geneva presented around a hundred prints and drawings from the Gugelmann Collection, one of the most important assemblies of “Schweizer Kleinmeister”. It is one of the core holdings of the NL’s Prints and Drawings Department. Another, the landscape photographs, is part of the Prints and Drawings Department’s involvement in the “4D Sites – Image-based Combination of Spatial Data and Graphical Material” project. Headed by the ETH Zurich, this aims to develop a software that combines landscape photography with the virtual landscape space.

Rilke in Bern

One focus of the SLA’s work in 2012 was Rainer Maria Rilke. This included staging the Rilke conference in Bern in association with the International Rilke Society. To accompany the event, the SLA published the “Berner Taschenbuch” of the Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge in facsimile and as a genetic edition. There was also an issue of the SLA journal Quarto devoted to Rilke.

Voices of Swiss culture

After a ten-year term, the “Images et Voix de la culture Suisse” (IMVOCS) project, in which the SLA played a central role, came to an end during 2012. Launched in 2002 by Memoriav, the Association for the preservation of the audiovisual heritage of Switzerland, it set out to preserve sound, film and video documents from Swiss authors in all four national languages. They are held by the Swiss National Sound Archives under an agreement with the NL. The documents can now be accessed by anyone interested, using the listening spots at the NL in Bern and the National Sound Archives in Lugano.

Address for enquiries

Marie-Christine Doffey, Director of the Swiss National Library
Tel. 031 322 89 01


Swiss National Library