My Favorite Library

I attended a school that had a very rich history—not that it interested me in the least as a schoolgirl. Today, when I go back to visit, I can actually still go into the now former school because it has been remodeled (again) and made into a library.

But let’s start at its beginnings: My home town was on the map during the Roman expansion across Europe. Around 600 AD, two missionaries from Ireland came to the town of Bregenz, Austria. Kolumban and Gallus were very successful in spreading Catholicism in that area, and many churches and place names remind us of their influence. The building in which I spent 8 years of my schooling, was named after St. Gallus eventually. It started out as a castle in the 14th century. The property later changed hands and became a Benedictine monastery, then an agricultural school, a school for girls (Gallusstift), and finally a library and one of the state’s repositories.

I always liked the school as a child. Even though it was a somewhat long walk, which prompted me to ride my bike to school almost daily (except for the few days in winter when it became necessary to take the bus), the distance did not matter. The building was nestled against a hill. Right behind it were woods that stretched for miles (and in which we had to run many times for exercise since our castle/monastery surprisingly did not own a gym).

 

Older view (also borrowed from the library's website).

Older view (borrowed from the library’s website: http://vlb.vorarlberg.at/wer-sind-wir/gallusstift.html).

In the picture above, you can see the cupola that sits on top of what used to be a chapel. The chapel was large enough to contain all of the school’s students (about 450) before or on any given Christian holiday. Frankly, I hated being crammed into the tiny church. It was not really made for 400 squirmy teenagers.

Vorarlberger Landes-Bibliothek

Vorarlberger Landes-Bibliothek

But today that same chapel has been transformed into a library, holding 100,000 books. Well, the entire building is now the state library for Vorarlberg. Of course, the monks started their own library there long ago, and some of the archival material is still housed there today. The holdings contain literary jewels from centuries ago up to a state-of-the-art e-library. During my visits back home, I don’t have enough time to explore the various collections of the library, but I often pop in just to marvel at the the chapel-turned-library:

The library in the chapel.

The library in the chapel.

I think it’s just wonderful the way they have incorporated the original design of the chapel walls, the organ, the stain-glass windows. They’ve added spiral staircases, which fit well into the existing architecture. And although my photo at left came out rather yellow because I didn’t dare use a flash in a library, it is a very high, bright, and airy room—so bright it seems to have nothing to do with the dark crowded church I felt prisoner in as a child.

It makes me happy to know that my old school is still used by scholars, historians, book lovers of any kind, people who seek information. There are daily papers and magazines and computers available for the public. For centuries, this has been a place for inquiring minds. And I feel privileged to be a graduate of this special place.

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