Mount Angel Abbey was founded in 1882 by Benedictine monks from the Abbey of Engelberg in Switzerland. The monks quickly became involved in pastoral work and in education, and in 1889 opened Mount Angel Abbey Seminary. The Swiss monks brought a sizable library with them to Oregon. Unfortunately, only a few books survived a disastrous fire in 1926, which destroyed the library as well as the rest of the Abbey. The few volumes which survived reminded later generations of monks of their roots and of the generosity of the founding monastery.
The nucleus of the current library collection was secured in 1932, when the contents of a used bookstore were purchased in Aachen, Germany. For the next twenty years, as the monks worked to rebuild the Abbey and the seminary, the library’s collection grew slowly. In 1952, Fr. Barnabas Reasoner, O.S.B., returned from library school to become the director. He introduced modern library procedures and began to build the collection. Fr. Barnabas adopted the Library of Congress classification system and planned the new Aalto-designed library, which was dedicated in 1970. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, library director Fr. Hugh Feiss greatly expanded the library’s holdings in philosophy, Patristics, and Latin Christian studies.
Mount Angel Abbey Library’s collection continues to grow in size and quality. Like libraries all over the world, the Abbey’s library must be concerned about the conservation and the preservation of materials. Traditional books will not soon disappear, but other media are here to stay as well. The threat to libraries does not come from the media, but from cultural forces which denigrate study and argument, faith-seeking understanding, and thoughtful exchange among people of different times, places and viewpoints. In the face of such forces, libraries – Mount Angel Abbey Library among them – are becoming more concerned to promote and foster understanding through study, argument and conversation.