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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Austrian Manuscript Library Tour, part 3: Stift Klosterneuburg

"I expect to be stationed here till the end of January. The manuscript collection (1250) is extensive and impressive." Father Oliver Kapsner, OSB, in a letter dated November 20, 1966.
The Schatzkammer at Stift Klosterneuburg. About a week after I took this photo,
Julie Andrews came here to host the New Year's concerts from Vienna!

So, of course, I was running late on Monday morning (December 16, 2013). In the rush, I grabbed the wrong bus at the Heiligenstadt train station and found myself on the way to the Leopoldsberg, not Klosterneuburg. As soon as I realized my mistake, I climbed off the bus and took the next one back to Heiligenstadt, where I took a train instead. Fortunately, I only arrived a half-hour late.  My host, Martin Haltrich, was patiently waiting and offered me coffee. Since I had another appointment in the afternoon, I really needed to be more careful with my time!

Reels of microfilm from HMML at
47 years earlier, another representative of Saint John's paid a (much longer) visit to this Augustinian abbey in the outskirts of Vienna.  From a letter dated October 16, 1966, Father Oliver Kapsner, OSB, indicated that he and his team had moved to Klosterneuburg around October 11, 1966. They would work there until February 2, 1967. In about five months, the film crew photographed nearly 1300 manuscripts, making this the second largest collection preserved in Austria (after only the Austrian National Library).

As with much of Father Oliver's correspondence, the concern about weather played on Father Oliver's thoughts:

"Winter struck plötzlich ["suddenly"] on October 30, with the first snowfall, and it has been winter ever since, unusually early for Austria, very much so. There are bad snowdrifts in various parts of Austria, with 23 lives lost, mostly because of avalanches." (November 20, 1966)

I, too, arrived in the depths of winter, but to much milder conditions. The day was cold, but not so bitter, and almost no snow was in evidence. Instead, I was treated to a fabulous tour of the manuscript areas and the main library. As with other libraries I visited, the manuscripts are not stored in the main library space, but are in a more protected side area, with special covers on the cases to reduce exposure to sunlight.

Martin Haltrich, the librarian responsible for manuscripts at Klosterneuburg,
with one of the prized volumes.
What's inside such a large volume? Illuminated initials, for one thing.
Indeed, one of the surprises (for me, at least) was the different approach to environmental controls for storage, not only at Klosterneuburg, but also elsewhere in Austria. While the extreme climate in much of the United States requires special climate controls to protect against excessive heat, humidity, and/or lack thereof, in Austria the conditions are mild enough that the temperature and humidity levels stay quite well within the limits that books and manuscripts want. Even in the worst of heat waves, the rooms stayed at a comfortable temperature!

Shelving area in the Klosterneuburg Library.
The main hall of the library.
A "quick-ref" desk with several books ready for consultation.

The milder weather possibly contributed to another aspect of life in Austria, the reduced need to use large amounts of heat in other buildings as well.  Father Oliver described his experiences with Klosterneuburg temperatures as follows:

"The wood stove is afire in my room to help keep me warm during the daytime, and there is the usual feather tick for comfort at night. But the huge stone church is a cold, cold place. Completely unheated all winter, this otherwise beautiful house of God will [be] getting colderer and colderer [sic] week by week. I am always glad when we are finished with the longer morning prayers there."
But later he elaborates:

"Here we have daily concelebration, which helps some. The concelebration is beautiful, with a different form every day:  deutsche Betmesse, deutsche Singmesse, chanted Mass, and mass with the Canon chanted by the concelebrants."

For me, the most beautiful part of his description is the fact that he became a part of the community during his stay there. He not only lived and worked at the Abbey, but he also found a way to be part of the liturgical life. What better way can there be to demonstrate respect and openness to another community?

The outside of the Abbey church at Klosterneuburg.

Curiously, it was during Father Oliver's stay at Klosterneuburg Abbey that a subject first appears in the library's correspondence files, a subject that continues to occupy us to this day--Computers! While there were no plans to "digitize" the manuscripts (such options did not exist in 1966), the new director of the Monastic Manuscript Microfilm Library (later "HMML"), Dr. Julian Plante, raised the issue of using computers to create a provisional catalog to expedite scholarly access to the collections:

"Father Fintan estimated that for $3,500.00 the provisional inventory (the cards you type) of the almost 5,000 projects now on hand could be placed on computer cards and provisional catalogs produced according to author, subject, incipit, title, date, project number, and codex number. This work could probably be completed by July of 1967."(Julian Plante, December 15, 1966)

He goes on to list advantages and disadvantages to pursuing this proposal, before summarizing his intentions in turning to digital resources:
 "Well, Father Oliver, these are a few of the ideas we've been toying with. Our aim is speedy availability with the highest possible accuracy and at the most economical cost. Furthermore, such computerizing will significantly aid me in preparing the final catalog."

Today we have found new uses for computers with manuscripts.
Here a mobile photography studio set up in one of the side rooms at the Klosterneuburg Abbey library.

What would Father Oliver have thought of this set-up? Much smaller than a microfilm camera.

Father Oliver responded rather positively in a letter dated January 4, 1967:
"All told, balancing advantages and disadvantages, it looks okay to use the computer in order to make the material in the microfilm collection quickly available in some form. It will take a long time to catalog the microfilm collection, which is expanding rapidly, adequately."
Thirty years later, in the 1990's, the online catalog at HMML came fully into being through the efforts of the EAMMS project (Electronic Access to Medieval Manuscripts). Indeed, the core data in the HMML online catalog comes from these very same inventory cards that were being discussed in 1966! In a nice touch of irony, we today have nicknamed this catalog OLIVER, and in many ways it is the digital fulfillment of Father Oliver's work in Austria!!

In that same letter, Oliver demonstrated his underlying pleasure in the Christmas experience which he greatly enjoyed during his stay at Klosterneuburg:

"Here we are, off in the New Year. The peace of Christmas was all in my heart, not on my desk. Though outdoors there was snow on the ground and on the ubiquitous evergreen branches, internally the Austrian Christmas was full of warmth, traditionally so. I hope they can keep it so." (January 4, 1967)

While not as dramatic, my Advent 2013 experiences at Klosterneuburg are also ones that I will not soon forget!

Peace to the Community at the Abbey in 2014--the 900th anniversary of their founding!

Learn more about the library at Klosterneuburg Abbey at:
(in German)

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