The Coordination Office for the Preservation of Written Cultural Heritage (KEK) coordinates and optimises the preservation of original written materials and thus makes a significant contribution towards safeguarding our cultural memory. Nearly all historical documents – such as books, certificates and records – are made of paper. And that paper is severely threatened: over time, it becomes brittle, deteriorates and, in the worst case, becomes irrecoverable.

Funded by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media and the Cultural Foundation of the German Federal States, we pursue one central objective: to permanently preserve the written heritage stored in archives, libraries and their affiliated institutions. To that end, we were established in August 2011 within the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation and have been based ever since at the State Library of Berlin. As the sole interdisciplinary and interregional body operating in the field of preservation, we serve numerous functions. 

The duty of permanently protecting written cultural heritage from dangers and preserving it for the long term lies with archives, libraries, museums and their affiliated institutions. Yet, all too often, the expertise or the financial resources required to store and safeguard written materials are lacking. That is why we fund preservation projects:

  • BKM Special Programme: This funding programme uses federal funds to support large-scale procedures such as deacidification, packaging and cleaning. By requiring 50% co-financing, the funding programme incentivises German regions to provide additional regional funding and to expand their own regional level preservation programmes.
  • KEK Pilot Project Funding: With this funding programme, we invest in particularly innovative approaches and best practices. Institutions can build exemplary experience, bolster their relevant skills in this area or carry out high-visibility projects.

We help to promulgate specialist information within professional circles, among policymakers and at institutions:

  • KEK website: Visitors to our website can view detailed information on all projects supported since 2010 as well as visualise and statistically analyse this data.
  • Reporting to political bodies: We apprise committees on the federal, regional and municipal levels as well as international organisations.
  • Talks and workshops: We inform institutions about the modalities for applying for grants from our funding programmes. In addition, our director, Ursula Hartwieg, regularly teaches as a guest lecturer, for example at HAWK University of Applied Sciences and Art in Hildesheim.

We raise awareness of preservation issues among professionals, politicians and the public:

  • Publications and campaigns: Through compelling publications regarding funded projects and the progress with preserving written cultural heritage, we raise public awareness about original documents and books. Our publications are available for free in our publications section.
  • Collaborations and events: We cooperate with partners in the field of cultural heritage protection on targeted efforts to reach a broad audience. We also collaborate with publicly funded institutions and discuss special projects and collections at events.
  • Community management: We have a social media presence under the handle @originalerhalt (German for book/document preservation), where we post information about our projects and engage with the community. 

Historical holdings in Germany are dispersed across all the states and divided amongst various institutions. In light of this dispersion and the magnitude of the endeavour, successful preservation can only be achieved on a collective basis that transcends both regional and disciplinary boundaries. That is why we create forums for cooperation:

  • Events for interdisciplinary dialogue: We have initiated multiple forums that optimise and better synchronise cooperation around the preservation of original written materials. These include the Germany-Wide Expert Dialogue, the KEK Closed-Door Meeting and the Working Meeting of the Archive and Library Divisions of the regions.
  • Standardised data sharing: We have supported and instated pilot projects comprising detection systems that help institutions improve their coordination of collections that have undergone treatments and the measures that have been taken. 

Since 2015, the theoretical and strategic foundation of our work has been the National Recommendations for Action, an initial comprehensive report on the state of written cultural heritage in Germany. We receive ongoing specialist support for our strategic planning efforts from an expert advisory council composed of specialists from the archive, library and conservation sector.

The advisory council supports the gradual implementation of the National Recommendations for Action and makes recommendations on project funding. The board members are appointed by the BKM in consultation with the KSL and serve a three-year term.

Jakob Frohmann, Stephanie Preuss, Laura Scherr, Johannes Kistenich-Zerfaß, Maria Elisabeth Müller, Alessandra Sorbello-Staub, Markus Stumpf

The current members of the expert advisory council (clockwise from top left):

  • Jakob Frohmann, director of the Preservation Division at the University Library Johann Christian Senckenberg of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt am Main and member of the Commission on Preservation in Section 4 of the German Library Association
  • Stephanie Preuss, Director of the Preservation Division, Department of Use and Preservation at the German National Library, member of the Commission on Preservation in Section 4 of the German Library Association and Deputy Chair of the expert advisory council
  • Dr. Laura Scherr, Director of Section 3 (construction, preservation, publications, public relations) of the Bavarian State Archives and member of the Commission on Preservation of the Conference of Directors of Federal and Regional Archival Administrations
  • Dr. Johannes Kistenich-Zerfaß, Unit Director of the Hessian Regional Archives – Hessian State Archives of Darmstadt and Chair of the Conference of Directors of Federal and Regional Archival Administrations
  • Dr. Marcus Stumpf, Director of the LWL Archive Office for Westfalen in Münster and Chair of the Federal Conference of Municipal Archives at the Association of German Cities
  • Dr. Alessandra Sorbello Staub, Director of the Library of the Fulda Episcopal Seminary, spokesperson of the Historic Holdings Commission of the Association of Theological Libraries and member of the Commission on Preservation in Section 4 of the German Library Association
  • Maria Elisabeth Müller, Director of the State and University Library Bremen, Deputy Chair of the Regional Library Working Group in Section 4 of the German Library Association and Chair of the expert advisory council

Representatives of the BKM, the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder, the KSL, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation and the State Library of Berlin can attend meetings of the expert advisory board as guests.

Past appointees to the expert commission have included: 

  • Dr. Ernst Otto Bräunche, Director of the City Archives of Karlsruhe 
  • Prof. Thomas Bürger, former Director General of the Saxon State Library – State and University Library Dresden
  • Prof. Mario Glauert, Director of the Brandenburg State Archives
  • Dr. Rolf Griebel, former Director General of the Bavarian State Library
  • Dr. Michael Hollmann, President of the Federal Archives
  • Prof. Robert Kretzschmar, former President of the Baden-Württemberg State Archives
  • Dr. h. c. (NUACA) Barbara Schneider-Kempf, former Director General of the State Library of Berlin
  • Dr. Michael Vogel, regional Commissioner for Preservation, Saxon State Library – State and University Library Dresden

As coordinators we focus on creating structural networks. In addition to interregional and interdisciplinary cooperations, we promote the sharing of knowledge and data on preservation. We also encourage the foundation of regional preservation offices and promote exchange among regional actors. 

Since 2021, we have been expanding our international network. On 23–24 November, we celebrated our 10th anniversary at the international Preservation in Perspective conference. Presentations and discussions are documented in our online magazine and on YouTube.