About the Library
History, orientation of the collection, and architecture
The beginnings of the Werner Oechslin Library go back to a time when the study of primary sources and confirmation of findings through consultation of the originals was rarely considered important and, indeed, held in high esteem only in special fields of research. Today, attitudes towards research based on primary sources have changed radically. Uncertainty and reorientations in the humanities demand a (re-)examination of their foundations. This has led to re-evaluations and even rediscoveries. The interest in primary sources and the insight into the necessity of their study – especially regarding forms of thought, scholarly models, and attempts at integrative understanding and comprehension – is now bigger than ever, and still growing.
Thanks to years of patient preparation, the establishment of the Werner Oechslin Library has created an instrument that accommodates the needs of primary source research, responding to the interest in scholarship based on original texts. Large parts of the library have been located in Einsiedeln since 1980. This stock was considerably increased after 1985 when Werner Oechslin returned from years working in Italy, the USA, and Germany; since then the library has been systematically augmented. Encouragement from many quarters prompted the decision to turn the private library into a public institution, making it available to a larger audience of scholars. The architect Mario Botta designed a project for a new library building already in 1996; this was then constructed in several stages, surmounting numerous difficulties, over the course of the following years. On 9 June 2006 this unique library was inaugurated by Pascal Couchepin, then-member of the Swiss federal council, along with 160 other guests.
Orientation of the Collection
"He should be a good writer, a skilful draftsman, versed in geometry and optics, expert at figures, acquainted with history, informed on the principles of natural and moral philosophy, somewhat of a musician, not ignorant of the sciences both of law and physic, nor of the motions, laws, and relations to each other, of the heavenly bodies".
The library was assembled parallel to thirty years of research activity with the goal to reconstruct the cultural context of the individual disciplines by means of direct testimony from the primary sources, as well as to make this body of writings available for research as scientific tools of the highest quality. With its limited number of books, the library places a clear emphasis on the original sources, but is nevertheless comprehensive in its coverage of cultural history. Thanks to this profile, to this exceptional density and completeness of the relevant sources and the intellectual projects built upon them, the library has long attracted international interest. In Switzerland, the Werner Oechslin Library furnishes a unique interdisciplinary meeting place for research on architectural theory as well as art and cultural history. And it is a special concern to mediate the dialogue between humanities and natural sciences.
But the selection of Einsiedeln as the library location also has a symbolic meaning. From Mario Botta's building, one's view drifts to the famous monastery, founded in 934 and from its earliest days a center of making and collecting books in its scriptorium and its library, the latter still significant today. With its location on the "Luegeten" lane, the library lies on St. James' Way leading to Santiago de Compostela, used for centuries by pilgrims from Austria, Bohemia, and northern and eastern Germany. Einsiedeln has always played a pivotal role in connecting north and south, the German and Latin worlds.
The path itself is a metaphor for development and education. Mario Botta placed his library building on this historical pilgrimage route, intentionally combining a real path with a conceptual one. This superimposition of an abstract-mental world on a physical-sensory one has characterized book collections since time immemorial. Herein lies the special fascination of the Werner Oechslin Library and its design by Mario Botta.
The attempt to physically represent a mental order in an exemplary fashion offers itself in a small library – in the sense of supporting and structuring the contents. The Werner Oechslin Library intends to realize this state of being "systematically ordered" (mentalmente architettato), which helps reveal the collection's inner content directly to its users. The books are arranged in such a way that they communicate to the reader not only their own presence, as individual publications, but rather - through their order and integration - also the related books of their immediate proximity, their “good neighborhood” (as Aby Warburg called it). The content of the library should be immediately evident as a whole and in its parts. Knowledge is no longer separated but networked and - befitting a library of cultural history - is presented as a complete entity.