The changing importance of libraries in the course of history has always been closely linked to a country’s social and political development. This naturally holds specifically true for the Revolutions of 1848. When Windischgrätz and the imperial troops began bombarding the city on 31 October 1848, the Hofburg went up in flames and the library was in serious danger. Those members of the court library’s staff who had stayed behind in Vienna (prefect Baron Münch von Bellinghausen had left the city) evacuated numerous books to avoid irreplaceable losses.
Once the revolution was crushed and Emperor Francis Joseph I ascended the throne on 2 December 1848, making the reading facilities at the court library accessible again became a political necessity. In 1848 demands to extend opening hours into the evenings were complied with. When the library officially re-opened in January 1849, these longer opening hours were kept up, although attempts were made to take back the concessions granted to the reading public. Prefect Ernst Ritter von Birk, having received praise for rescuing the library as a young scribe during the revolution in 1848, was particularly reluctant to agree to a more liberal use of the court library. Probably due to his experiences with the revolution, he restricted its services, which were inadequate anyway (the court library still lacked a proper reading room), even further. By prohibiting the lending of fiction, illustrated magazines, grammar books, encyclopaedias, textbooks, etc., he hoped to keep "individuals with unserious aspirations" from visiting the library. On the other hand, starting in 1846, Birk took charge of recataloguing the complete holdings of printed works, which took him 27 years.
In the person of Wilhelm Ritter von Hartel, the court library received an excellent and renowned scholar as a prefect who hoped to make the institution once again the centre of academic life by improving services and introducing request slips (which ensured that the books would be available on the subsequent day).