Bookworms and scorpions – the Austrian National Library

Both the girls and me love reading. We regularly go to the library, lend a whole bag full of books which we, for the most part, read before the due date, and than run back to the library to return the old and take the new ones. Having that in mind, I wanted to show them something else – how a truly large, magnificent library works off stage, what happens in the areas that are not open to a regular customer. So, I took them for a guided tour through the Austrian National Library in Vienna.

So, first things first. The Austrian National Library is located on Heldenplatz, in the heart of the city.


We have chosen a guided tour for children aged 6 and up and the guide was a library employee, a great lady who told us a great deal about how it all works. First, she told us about the stuff used to publish books, from the Egyptian papyrus to the different kinds of paper and how each of them is kept safe. Did you know that the Austrian National Library keeps each and every daily, weekly and monthly newspaper and magazine published in Austria, not only the paper edition, but also transferred to microfilm? Besides the Austrian press, it also keeps numerous international papers, such as New York Times, Frankfurter Allgemeine, Le Monde, etc. The rooms where all of them are being kept look like this…


…and go up to five levels under the ground. The National Library is also obliged to keep all the books by Austrian authors, published both in Austria and abroad, as well as many other books by international authors. As you can well imagine, the space is getting fuller and soon enough (perhaps even within a decade) there will be not enough space for all these books, newspapers and magazines. The new building has not being built yet and it would be extremely expensive, because keeping so many books safe is a costly thing. And money appointed to culture is scarce.

Of course, it is not possible to walk through the library, browse through the shelves and take the books that inspire you most. What one has to do is to note down the author and the title of the book needed, come with it to the counter and order a book. The order will be forwarded to the required department, the book will be located, put into the little “train” and transported all the way to the ground floor, where it will be handed over to the reader. This is the transportation system used in the library.


The walk though the Library’s basements has revealed numerous different books, from the collected works of Bismarck to the selection of British authors.



And in the case you get tired…


Smoking is strictly prohibited, not only for the reasons of safety, but also because of the particular micro climate that should be kept at all times. However, it is possible for a fire to start and what happens in that case is the following: the smoke sensors detect the smoke and activate the large bottles filled with gas that, simply put, compact the oxygen and thus disable the fire. The gas is completely harmless to humans. The only side-effect can be a little dizziness caused by the lack of oxygen, just like the one you’d feel when climbing the Himalaya.


And if you are a student and want to work in the National Library, here’s the place you’d probably end up.


It is very quiet and intellectually stimulating. However, not everywhere is peaceful and quiet. There are entrance areas with armchairs and coffee machines where people sit and chat just like in a cafe.

And, no, I haven’t forgotten the bookworms and scorpions I’ve put in the title. I guess you’re familiar with the bookworms that can be found in older books, no matter how well the library takes care of the books. So, there is a special sort of almost two-dimensional scorpions that are released into the infected books. They feed on bookworms, but do not damage the books themselves and have been used by older libraries, mainly in palaces and monasteries. They are not used in contemporary libraries any more, but I have to admit that it was interesting hearing about them.

So, if you don’t know where to take your kids on a rainy Saturday afternoon, I would certainly suggest showing them this magnificent world of books and knowledge.

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