Working for the Library - Extending His Life: A Profile of Josef Sprug
By Bruce Flath
Photo by Victoria Ertelt
A man stricken by cancer was told by his doctors in 1988 that he had only five years to live. What better place, he thought, to spend those precious years than someplace close to the angels? That's when he decided to move to Mount Angel. Twenty-three years later, you'll find that man volunteering at the Mount Angel Abbey Library.
Sprug holds both a library degree and an M.A. in philosophy from the Catholic University of America. Before coming to the Mount Angel Abbey Library, he had created or collaborated on indexes to the literature of fairy tales and the works of Chesterton and St. Augustine. For nine years he compiled the Catholic Periodical Index.
When he first arrived at the library in 1988, Fr. Hugh Feiss, the library director, put him to work cataloging a large collection of books previously owned by Richard McKeon, a well-known philosopher at the University of Chicago. Afterwards, he spent most of his time cataloging rare books and manuscripts. Sprug estimates he has cataloged over 4,000 rare books.
Many visitors to the library know Sprug as the person who allows access to the library's most precious collection of books - those kept in a locked, climate-controlled room known as The Vault. He sometimes removes a select number of books and gives short presentations on their history and use.
Sprug continues to catalog rare and liturgical books. He recommends books to be purchased by the library and gives presentations to groups, individuals, and students of Mount Angel Seminary. He also spends a lot of time describing and entering books for the library through ABE, an online bookseller.
Sprug's hard work and personality are greatly appreciated by the library staff. Victoria Ertelt, the library administrator, said that "over the last twenty-three years, Josef has devoted thousands of hours to the Abbey Library. His vast knowledge, as well as his wicked sense of humor, have made him an esteemed coworker for library staff and an invaluable source of wisdom for the hilltop community."
"Back in 1988, my original plan," said Sprug, "was to work as hard as I could for as long as I could." Patrons, library staff, seminarians, and monks are all happy that he continues to follow that path twenty-three years later.
Note: As of Tuesday, November 8, the spelling of the word "holds" has been corrected.