History of the State Library

The history of ULB as a State Library dates back to the origin of its predecessor institution, the “öffentliche Bibliothèque” (public library) for the Duchy of Jülich-Berg on April 3rd 1770. This was founded by Karl Theodor Prince-Elector, Count of Palatine.

From the start, collection building was based on a kind of legal deposit regulation: All senior civil servants in the administration of the Duchy of Jülich-Berg had to donate a book or the equivalent of 10 Thaler to the library  at the moment of taking up their position. Only non-fiction was allowed, novels were explicitly excluded. In 1809, this regulation was abolished and  replaced by a law which was much more in accordance with today’s understanding of the legal deposit. This meant that all publishers located in the County of Berg had to deliver one copy of their production to the Electoral Court Library (Kurfürstliche Bibliothek). This regulation was enforced until 1849.

The politically motivated changing of names of the library clearly reflects the ambitions of the institution as a State Library:  

1794: Occupation of the left bank of the Rhine by Napoleon: Electoral Court Library (Kurfürstliche Hofbibliothek)
1806: Emergence of the County (later Duchy) of Berg: Grand Ducal Court Library (Großherzogliche Hofbibliothek)
1822: Creation of the Prussian Rhine Province: Royal State library (Königliche Landesbibliothek)
1904: Acquisition by the City of Düsseldorf: State- and City Library (Landes- und Stadtbibliothek)
1970: Acquisition by the University of Düsseldorf: University Library (Universitätsbibliothek)
1993: Establishment of a Cooperative State Library structure: University- and State Library (Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek).

The institution’s perception as a State Library is supported by the stock policy: In 1786 the library of the Jesuit College (4,430 volumes) was incoporated, 1892 the collection of the Günther family of Düsseldorf, as well as the library of the Municipal Historical Museum (Städtisches Historisches Museum) and its rich collection on the local history of Düsseldorf, the lower-Rhine region and the Land of Berg (Bergisches Land). In addition, in the course of secularisation the library attained 22,000 volumes, including manuscripts and regional source material, from the surrounding monasteries. At the beginning of the 20th Century, systematic collection of regional literature was demanded and put into practice by the first academically educated director of the State and City Library, Constantin Nörrenberg. Under his aegis, old prints from Düsseldorf were acquired retrospectively, he established a comprehensive regional collection of journals, extended  the existing Heine-collection, and incorporated manuscripts and autographs of significant writers, artists and musicians from Düsseldorf, among others Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, Karl Immermann, Friedrich Wilhelm Schadow and Heinrich Kruse, into the holdings. In 1909, the library gained the right to legal deposit for official publications from  the administrative district of Düsseldorf. This right was conferred to the University Library in 1970. In the same year, the State and City Library was closed down, and the holdings were handed over to the Federal State North Rhine-Westphalia. The approximately 500,000 volumes became the basic stock for the library of the University of Düsseldorf founded in 1965. 

The State and City Library was the only one among the greater libraries in North Rhine-Westphalia which survived the Second World War nearly unaffected. Nevertheless, its history is not without regrettable losses. In the time between 1810 and 1820, holdings, among them also incunabula and manuscripts, had to be transferred to the newly founded University Library of Bonn, as well as to Grammar School Libraries in Essen and Düsseldorf. The deterioration of space capacity resulted in further transfers or even deaccession. Sixteen years later, medieval choir books deemed valueless were sold. The modern collection of manuscripts and autographs by artists and poets from Düsseldorf was not transferred to the new University Library Düsseldorf but to the Heinrich-Heine-Institute founded in 1970.  

Günter Gattermann, the first  Librarian of the newly founded Düsseldorf University Library, was heavily involved in the structural development of a Cooperative State Library-System in North Rhine-Westphalia. From 1993 on, Düsseldorf University Library was, besides Bonn and Münster, allowed to be called University- and State Library. It gained the legal deposit right for the administrative district of Düsseldorf, and from 1983 on, it published the North Rhine-Westphalian Bibliography together with  Münster University Library without explicit ministerial instruction.

Among its duties as a State Library, ULB counts the storage, conservation, indexing, digitization and provision of the written cultural heritage, gained 1970 and steadily increased in the following years. At the moment, its focus is on the indexing and digitization of medieval manuscripts and of the significant collection of school publications, playbills, and posters. Furthermore, the planned  indexing of a collection comprising 170,000 items of solander stored documents will bring to light many documents which are of significance for regional studies. Within the limits of financial resources, collection building for the most important traditional collections continues based on a particular collection profile. Among the new highlights are the collection Janusz Korczak acquired in 2005, the facsimile collection Urselmann, the collection of rare philosophical books and historical lexica, and many more. Within projects funded by the DFG, the rich collection of medieval manuscript fragments, the collection Vester, the collection of the Düsseldorfer Malerschule, as well as parts of the playbill collection have already been digitized.


  • Gattermann, Günter: Landesbibliotheksaufgaben in Nordrhein-Westfalen. In: Mitteilungsblatt. Verband der Bibliotheken des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen. N. F. 41 (1991), S. 239–246.
  • Gießler, Joseph: Die Landes- und Stadtbibliothek zu Düsseldorf. Ein geschichtlicher Rückblick. In: Aus der Arbeit der Landes- und Stadtbibliothek Düsseldorf. Düsseldorf 1955 (Veröffentlichungen der Landes- und Stadtbibliothek Düsseldorf ; 2), S. 5–21.
  • Hiller von Gaertringen, Julia: Stadt und Bibliothek. Die Landes- und Stadtbibliothek Düsseldorf in den Jahren 1904 bis 1970. Düsseldorf: Grupello, 1997 (Schriften der Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Düsseldorf ; 28).
  • 200 Jahre Landes- und Stadtbibliothek. Düsseldorf 1970 (Veröffentlichungen der Landes- und Stadtbibliothek Düsseldorf ; 6).
  • Siebert, Irmgard: Sammlungen entdecken, erhalten, erschliessen und vernetzen. Zehn Jahre Qualitätsdigitalisierung an der ULB Düsseldorf. In: ProLibris 18 (2013) 2, S. 62-69.
  • Siebert, Irmgard: Die Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Düsseldorf als Teil der Landesbibliotheksstruktur in Nordrhein-Westfalen. In: Labisch, Alfons (Hrsg.): Jahrbuch der Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf 2006/2007. Düsseldorf 2007. S. 555-571.
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