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St. Olaf’s Kierkegaard Library is a local treasure

The Hong Kierkegaard Library: A Crown Jewel of St. Olaf College. Jack Schwandt, revised edition, Northfield, Minnesota: Friends of the Kierkegaard Library. 2011. 232 pages, $19.95. 1510 St. Olaf Avenue, Northfield, MN 55057; 507/786-3846.
Imagine that you had a time machine, and could be transported back to another place and another time, to immerse yourself in a world much different from your own. Writers and scholars attempt to do this all the time within the limits of their own minds and own imaginations, but this is a difficult task to maintain, even for the most fertile of imaginations.
So imagine those lucky students of the Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard who have a version of this scholarly “time machine” in the Kierkegaard Library on the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota.

"The Hong Kierkegaard Library," by Jack Schwandt

Of course, any library is only a collection unless it is used.

This internationally-renowned institution is the place in the world to study the works and thought of this important thinker, through the remarkable and generous gifts of its founders, Howard and Edna Hong, from the Friends of the Kierkegaard Library, and from St. Olaf College.

An unequaled Kierkegaard collection

The Hong Kierkegaard Library grew out of the Hong’s own collection of materials, gathered to assist them in their study and translation of the works of Kierkegaard. The “time machine” itself is a collection of the books and printed materials that replicate the philosopher’s own library, and the resources he himself would have had on hand — a priceless resource for those who would wish to immerse themselves in the world of this 19th-century Danish thinker. Instead of chasing all over Denmark and Europe for these vital volumes, the Hongs painstakingly and methodically gathered these rare volumes into one library, first for their own use, and then as a gift to writers and researchers from around the world.
Parallel to this reconstruction of Kierkegaard’s library, and almost equally as important, is the other half of the library, which houses an important collection of scholarly writings about the life and thought of Kierkegaard.
Of course, any library is only a collection unless it is used. So beyond just collecting these priceless materials, the Hong Kierkegaard Library has a second mission: to enable writers and scholars from around the world to come to Northfield and utilize its resources. The Hong Kierkegaard Library invites them to come to Northfield and access the library collection for their own study and thought, and since it is one of the most concentrated collections of Kierkegaard materials in the world, such invitations are highly sought after.
The Kierkegaard House Foundation also maintains a residence in Northfield for the scholars’ use, and there are financial stipends for them, as well. The Kierkegaard Library, in addition, has an important impact on what St. Olaf offers its students; the book devotes one chapter to that subject and also makes the point by devoting its last chapter to a particular student, Jonathan Stenseth.

The challenges of maintaining a collection

Gathering such a library was a work of love for Howard and Edna Hong, and very difficult work. Maintaining the mission of the Library has been a constant struggle, carried on by its Friends, and by St. Olaf College, after their deaths in 2007 and 2008. The nature of such a collection — old books and materials from hundreds of years ago — necessitates constant work and conservation.
Collecting new Kierkegaard materials, and assisting the Kierkegaard scholars, is a time intensive activity. Of course money is a constant issue; maintaining and expanding the work of the Hong Kierkegaard Library is an expensive proposition, and requires the diligent efforts of all those involved in it. This book chronicles the efforts to establish and house this Library, and the constant efforts needed to maintain and continue it.
This is a fascinating story, and an important part of Lutheran history in the Twin Cities metro area — one that everyone should read. The book is available for purchase through the St. Olaf College Bookstore.

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