I know two translations of library into German: "Bibliothek" and "Bücherei".

  • Bibliothek = "systematisch geordnete Sammlung von Büchern" or "Aufbewahrungsort für eine systematisch geordnete Sammlung von Büchern" - DWDS.

  • Bücherei = "Aufbewahrungsort einer Büchersammlung, kleinere (öffentliche) Bibliothek" - DWDS.

From a simple search it is clear that "Bibliothek" is ten times more in use than "Bücherei".

Hypothesis: city library is Stadtbücherei, while university library is Universitätbibliothek. I think it is like that. Or can I call a city library a Stadtbibliothek and a university library a Universitätbücherei?

  • 3
    Especially in the IT "Bibliothek" can also mean a collection of tools/programs/functions (not books!). For example, the libaudiocd contains functions that deal with audio CDs (like play, etc.). This would not translate to "Bücherei" but to "Bibliothek". That might be one of the reasons why "Bibliothek" is more popular than "Bücherei".
    – PerlDuck
    Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 18:47
  • 3
    Bibliothek can also just mean collection of books. Some German publishers (e.g. Reclam) call their programme Bibliothek.
    – Janka
    Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 21:16
  • @Janka: Ist das eine Marketingmetapher, oder nennt man das Programm anderer Verlage auch Bibliothek? Gebräuchlich ist das Wort m.W. nicht, aber ich unterhalte mich auch quasi nie über Verlagsprogramme und höre das Wort fast nie. Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 3:37

4 Answers 4


Bücherei is an older, simpler, non-foreign expression, not being used in academic circles; apart from that, they are largely synonyms. (Bücherei always refers to a public library, whereas a Bibliothek can be private, too.) Stadtbibliothek is totally fine (but not Universitätsbücherei), meaning that Bücherei is the narrower term.

  • So, the hypernym is Bibliothek and Bücherei is the narrower term? In other words, every Bücherei is a Bibliothek but nor reversely?
    – cornejo
    Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 18:26
  • 2
    In my opinion every Bücherei is a Bibliothek, yes, but not vice versa. You could probably do very well without the term Bücherei altogether.
    – Ingmar
    Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 19:13
  • 3
    Bücherei ist neuer.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 21:28
  • 2
    In German Bibliothek is (marginally) older than Bücherei (early 17th versus mid-17th century). In Greek and Latin biblioteca (bibliotheke) is of course much older. Bücherei is simply a German translation of Bibliothek.
    – fdb
    Commented Nov 20, 2016 at 1:00
  • "Älterer Begriff" war nicht im Vergleich zum Wort Bibliothek gemeint, sondern als Gegensatz zu "modern"; sagen wir also "altmodisch" statt älter. Der Begriff kommt meines Wissens aus dem Umfeld der Arbeiterbildungsbewegung bzw. hat jedenfalls dort eine größere Verbreitung erfahren und darf heute als veraltend gelten.
    – Ingmar
    Commented Nov 20, 2016 at 5:45

From my experience ...

Bibliothek is a collection of books or an institution that administers that collection or a Bücherei.

A personal collection of books can also be called Bibliothek. But that may originate from an ancient joke, like calling a purse a treasury. I´m a librarian´s son; I´ll ask.

Bücherei, afaik, is a place where the books are stored and administered. It definitely is the narrower term.

From my mother, the librarian:

The term Bücherei first came up when artisan guilds set up libraries for their members. The term is used for non-private libraries, i.e. libraries that are run by an institution of some kind, be it open to the public or only to selected people (e.g. a Schulbücherei where only teachers and pupils of that school have access). Bücherei is also the term for the institution that runs that library, if that is its sole purpose.

Bibliothek is not only the broader term, but formerly mostly used for classic libraries, where collecting and preserving literature is the focus (so that it´s there when you need it), while Bücherei is primarily used for libraries where the focus lies on using the books.

The main difference in brief:
A Bibliothek collects books that may be needed.
A Bücherei keeps those that are needed (and dumps those that are not).

Nowadays, they are generally used as synonyms, and there are a lot of former "Städtische Bücherei" that are now a "Städtische Bibliothek".

I suppose that´s because Bibliothek sounds more sophisticated ... and people are forgetting the difference between the two. But actually, they are synonyms: one Greek, one German.

  • Being married to a librarian, I can confirm that. Best answer so far.
    – tofro
    Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 15:11

On the first view there is no difference between a Bibliothek and a Bücherei

The word „Bibliothek“ has Greek sources ( βιβλιοθήκη (biblio-thḗkē)). Wikipedia tells, the Bücherei is a calque from dutch (1658 by Johann Amos Comenius). Another article in wikipedia mentions Philipp von Zesen as the creator of the word Bücherei. The Spiegel mentions also Philipp von Zesen as the creator of the Bücherei.

As a conclusion you may say, Bibliothek is a more sophisticated word and is used in more intellectual context (a university library or the private library of a well educated person with high-minded books). The Bücherei is more used for 'ordinary' book collection.

To avoid misunderstandings: Both words have a positive meaning. If you say, you go to a Bücherei you give a well educated image of you (you read books instead of looking TV). But there is also a big chance, that you look for a book for your leisure time. In a Bibliothek you get boot for professional reasons. But is is a smooth transition.

  • "If you say, you go to a Bücherei you give a well educated image of you (you read books instead of looking TV)." - although of course, you can also go to a Bücherei to get comic books, board games, sometimes even computer games, etc. Commented Nov 21, 2016 at 9:25

Well a "Bücherei" is always a place/building where people can read or lend books. This need not be true for a "Bibliothek". Maybe you have a friend with a large collection of books - you will say "He has a Bibliothek" you will not say "He has a Bücherei".

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.