History of the Collection

ZEFYS is a “creative acronym” for the Newspaper Information System, which was expanded to serve as the newspaper portal for the Berlin State Library (SBB). The SBB has the largest and most extensive newspaper collection in Germany. In 1993 the State Library of Berlin established its dedicated newspaper department, the first such department in Germany. In addition to German newspapers, the collection benefitted from funding from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) to facilitate the acquisition of newspapers from abroad that were held in card catalogue form at the library. In 2009, the SBB launched its digitised newspaper portal ZEFYS. ZEFYS currently gives access to 193 newspaper titles with roughly 7 million pages overall.

Consulted Libraries

Digitised newspapers published in ZEFYS typically stem from the collection of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. However, in some cases there have also been collaborations with other libraries or archives to digitise historical German newspapers from their holdings that are not part of the SBB collection and to make them available through ZEFYS, including some newspapers from former German colonies. The Deutsches Nachrichtenbüro, for example, was digitised in collaboration with the University of California, Los Angeles. The British Library contributed around 13,000 volumes, and the Federal Press and Information Office provided 40,000 volumes and packages.

Preservation Projects

Newspapers have been included in the Prussian legal deposit regulations since 1699, though it was not until 1824 that an amendment added a specific provision for periodicals. During the mid-nineteenth century, the library (then the Königliche Bibliothek, under the direction of Friedrick Wilcken) expanded its holdings, making the newspaper collection the most comprehensive in Germany. As a result of the evacuations of the holdings during the Second World War, many items of the newspaper collection suffered severe damage and loss. After the war, the library (then the Deutsche Staatsbibliothek), received every newspaper which was published in the German Democratic Republic via legal deposit legislation. The holdings of the Preußische Staatsbibliothek, which were evacuated to western parts of Germany during the war, were the foundation of the Westdeutsche Bibliothek. These collections form the basis of the modern newspaper department, formed after reunification.

The library aims to make available microfilms of newspapers that are in high demand or exposed to frequent use. In 1999 a reprographic company was placed in a studio in the library’s Newspaper Department with microfilming supported by the DFG and the conservation funds of the Staatsbibliothek. The Berlin State Library generally digitises from microfilm masters rather than from hard copy original. In addition to the increased efficiency of digitisation, this also preserves the paper originals and internal evaluations of its OCR have shown that there is next to no quality loss when the microfilm master is used for image capture. Preservation microfilming is still supported on a small scale and the German Research Foundation has mandated that the newly created microfilm be listed in the ZDB catalogue.

Digitisation Projects

In addition to the continuous digitisation of newspapers based on user demand, the Berlin State Library carried out a number of specific newspaper digitisation projects such as the Amtspresse Preußens, which digitised the Prussian political press collection, DDR Presse, which digitised three popular newspapers from the German Democratic Republic (for reasons of copyright, these are only available after log-in), and most recently the Europeana Rise of Literacy project, which digitised the Vossische Zeitung.


The primary driver behind digitisation at the Berlin State Library has been user demand. In addition, the aim of the Digitisation of the Amtspresse Preußens project was to create a collection of the most influential political press of the last third of the nineteenth century, together with commentary and a search function.

Preservation and Access

Microfilm is used as the main means of preservation of the Berlin State Library newspaper collection. Hard copies that have been microfilmed are not typically available for manual inspection and visitors are instead directed to the microfilm. Digitisation is done mainly for reasons of access, and digitised copies of newspapers do not constitute a replacement of the microfilm masters for archiving purposes.

Composition of the Collection

Selection Available

ZEFYS provides access to 193 newspaper titles, or 311,234 issues, between 1857 and 1939. The main focus of digitisation is on newspapers from Berlin and its surroundings that were of national influence. Highlights of the collection include early papers such as Berlinische Nachrichten (founded 1740), foreign German-language papers such as Deutsche La Plata-Zeitung, and Russian-language papers published in Berlin. A full list of titles can be found on the ZEFYS website.

Data Quality


Only about 50% of the digitised newspapers available in ZEFYS have been processed with OCR. Currently, the OCR text is neither used for full text search nor displayed in ZEFYS. There are plans to integrate the digitised newspapers in ZEFYS with the main presentation platform for digitised collections at the Berlin State Library and, as part of this, implement full text search and display.

The quality of the OCR that does exist varies between 70-80% word accuracy, with newspapers in Fraktur typically having somewhat lower accuracy than those printed in Antiqua. In the past, OCR processing was done using ABBYY FineReader 10 and 11 because of its layout segmentation performance, which is much better than that delivered by open source OCR engines for historic newspaper layouts.


Images are captured with 300 PPI and 8-bit colour (greyscale) in TIFF format with 90% JPEG compression. This slightly decreases file size without negative effects for OCR/OLR processing or viewing images on the web.

Metadata Schema

For the digitised newspapers, the Berlin State Library follows the METS/MODS profile for digitised newspapers, established in collaboration with the German Digital Library. ALTO is used to store the OCR full text.

Backend Structure

Digitised newspapers are organised by title, with subdirectories for year and date of issue. In the case of multiple editions on a single day, issues are separated by unique identifiers.

User Interface Structure

Web Interface

The ZEFYS portal allows users to search and access the digitised newspapers by title and date of the issue. Titles can be browsed by year and country of publication.


The Berlin State Library provides an API for the digitised newspapers, which allows retrieval of images, full text and metadata. It is documented at https://lab.sbb.berlin/5393/?lang=en.

Direct Download or Drives

Currently, the API is the only way to bulk-download digitised newspapers from ZEFYS. On request, full exports of images, full text and metadata can be provided via external hard disk.

Rights and Usage

Web Interface

The title-level metadata displayed in ZEFYS provides information about the rights and usage for each newspaper.


All digitised newspapers assembled in ZEFYS are dedicated to the public domain. Specific terms of use apply for the sub-collections Amtspresse Preußens and DDR Presse.

Suggested Citation

Beals, M. H. and Emily Bell, with contributions by Ryan Cordell, Paul Fyfe, Isabel Galina Russell, Tessa Hauswedell, Clemens Neudecker, Julianne Nyhan, Sebastian Padó, Miriam Peña Pimentel, Mila Oiva, Lara Rose, Hannu Salmi, Melissa Terras, and Lorella Viola. “ZEFYS.” The Atlas of Digitised Newspapers and Metadata: Reports from Oceanic Exchanges. Loughborough: 2020. DOI: 10.6084/m9.figshare.11560059.