Monasteries have long been the places where books and manuscripts are both cherished and preserved. In the 7th century, Benedict Biscop,
abbot and founder of the twin monasteries at Wearmouth and Jarrow in northeastern England, traveled frequently to Europe to obtain books to stock the monastic libraries. Our patron St. Bede used that library to become a shining intellectual light for the Church.
The abbey library began with the theology books various monks brought back from their seminary studies, the St. Bede monastic library grew into an impressive collection of books on topics ranging from theology and scripture to monastic studies and social justice in languages as diverse as Biblical Hebrew and modern Italian.
As the collection grew, so, too, did the need for reorganization, a task undertaken first by Abbot Marion when he served as librarian and continued by Abbot Claude who succeeded him. Both men were also eager to create a searchable database of the collection with the hopes of eventually sharing it online.
In 2014 Abbot Philip asked Fr. Michael to take up the task, and they enlisted the help of Sr. Rebecca Abel, O.S.B., a professional librarian and religious sister of St. Benedict’s Abbey in Ferdinand, Indiana. After assessing the quality of the collection, Sr. Rebecca reported that it was, indeed, well worth both reorganizing and entering into an online database. The monastic library, she noted, contains many rare volumes and collections. These include an 1897 two-volume work entitled Concordance to the Septuagint and other Greek versions of the Old Testament and an 1894 three-volume work entitled The Formation of Christendom.
At this point, Abbot Philip approached the Oblates of St. Bede and asked for volunteers to help with the work. In the ensuing months, Sr. Rebecca, Fr. Michael, and some Oblate volunteers removed all of the books – all 19,000+ volumes – from the shelves, culled duplicates, and then reshelved the volumes in a new, more efficient layout Sr. Rebbeca devised. Oblate and St. Bede alumnus Art DeGrant, ’60 and JC ’62, even drove from East Moline every week to help with this part of the project.
If moving the books was the physically demanding part of the project, transferring the catalogue information from paper cards to a digital database has been the time-consuming aspect. While the books were being moved, Abbot Philip authorized the purchase of a new computer and library software Sr. Rebecca recommended. While Oblates Verna and Mary Julene Auchstetter helped put barcode labels on every book, Sr. Rebecca taught Fr. Michael and Oblates Patti Furlan, Vicki Gensini, and Kathy Martin how to enter data into the program. In early 2015, Verna and Mary Julene began transferring the barcode numbers to cards from the master shelf list catalogue.
In late 2016, Fr. Michael began a systematic inventory of the library’s holdings by taking the books off their shelves and checked the digital record of each book. By mid-2017 the systematic inventory was completed after which Fr. Michael began to clean up the listing of author’s names.
The online catalogue is the fruit of much work from many generous persons. The library continues to grow and add volumes to its holdings. If you have questions about the abbey library, then contact Fr. Michael at 815-250-0702 or email him.
St. Bede himself is surely delighted with how the monastic tradition of library building is being continued here in Peru, Illinois.
Browse the Abbey’s Library Collection.
Browse/purchase a book from the Abbey Library’s duplicate stock.