Chained library

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Chained Library, Chelsea Old Church. Unique in London churches, a mediaeval library, containing a "vinegar bible" of 1717. These were a gift of Sir Hans Sloane.

A chained library is a library where the books are attached to their bookcase by a chain, which is sufficiently long to allow the books to be taken from their shelves and read, but not removed from the library itself. This would prevent theft of the library's materials.[1] The practice was usual for reference libraries (that is, the vast majority of libraries) from the Middle Ages to approximately the 18th century. However, since the chaining process was also expensive, it was not used on all books.[2] Only the more valuable books in a collection were chained.[3] This included reference books and large books.[4]

It is standard for chained libraries to have the chain fitted to the corner or cover of a book. This is because if the chain were to be placed on the spine the book would suffer greater wear from the stress of moving it on and off the shelf. Because of the location of the chain attached to the book (via a ringlet) the books are housed with their spine facing away from the reader with only the pages' fore-edges visible (that is, the 'wrong' way round to people accustomed to contemporary libraries). This is so that each book can be removed and opened without needing to be turned around, hence avoiding tangling its chain. To remove the book from the chain, the librarian would use a key.[5]

Chained library in Hereford Cathedral

The earliest example in England of a library to be endowed for use outside an institution such as a school or college was the Francis Trigge Chained Library in Grantham, Lincolnshire, established in 1598. The library still exists and can justifiably claim to be the forerunner of later public library systems. Marsh's Library in Dublin, built 1701, is another non institutional library which is still housed in its original building. Here it was not the books that were chained, but rather the readers were locked into cages to prevent rare volumes from 'wandering'. There is also an example of a chained library in the Royal Grammar School, Guildford as well as at Hereford Cathedral. While chaining books was a popular practice throughout Europe, it was not used in all libraries.[6] For example, in the library of Cambridge, England, books were never chained.[7] Some scholars have argued that this was the result of low literacy rates or a belief in the honesty of the town's residents.[8] The practice of chaining library books became less popular as printing increased and books became less expensive.[9]

Recent Interest in Saving and Preserving Chained Libraries[edit]

Recently, there has been increased interest in reconstructing chained libraries. While only five chained libraries left that have survived intact throughout the world survived.[10] This includes the library built in the Church of St. Walburga, located in the small town of Zutphen in the Netherlands.[11] This library was built in 1564.[12] The library is now part of a museum that allows visitors to tour and view the library's original books, furniture, and chains.[13] A lot of work has gone into rebuilding and preserving these great libraries.[14] For example, many workers, over a decade, and massive monetary donations were spent to restore the Mappa Mundi and Chained Library museum located in Hereford, England.[15] Built over 900 years ago, the library fell into disrepair and faced destruction.[16] The oldest chained book found in the library is the Hereford Gospel.[17] Written in the eighth century, it is one of 229 chained books located in this great library.[18] The Hereford library is the largest surviving chained library with its chains and books intact.[19] The library is now open to the public as an tourist attraction and museum.[20]

Chained Libraries in Popular Culture[edit]

  • In Terry Pratchett's Discworld series of comic fantasy novels, the library of the magical Unseen University also has a number of chained books—however, in this case the purpose of the chains is to prevent the more vicious magical books from escaping or attacking passers-by.
  • David Williams has written a mystery, Murder in Advent, that features a chained library.[21]
  • In the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the Restricted section of the library features chained books.

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Weston, J. (2013, May 10). "The Last of the Great Chained Libraries". Retrieved from http://medievalfragments.wordpress.com/2013/05/10/the-last-of-the-great-chained-libraries/
  2. ^ Byrne, D. “Chained libraries.” History Today, 1987, p. 375-6.
  3. ^ Byrne, D. “Chained libraries.” History Today, 1987, p. 375-6.
  4. ^ Byrne, D. “Chained libraries.” History Today, 1987, p. 375-6.
  5. ^ Lopez, B. “New Chained Library of Hereford Cathedral Takes Royal Prize”. American Libraries, 1997, p. 22.
  6. ^ Byrne, D. “Chained libraries.” History Today, 1987, p. 375-6.
  7. ^ Byrne, D. “Chained libraries.” History Today, 1987, 375-6.
  8. ^ Byrne, D. “Chained libraries.” History Today, 1987, 376
  9. ^ Lopez, B. “New Chained Library of Hereford Cathedral Takes Royal Prize”. American Libraries, 1997, p. 22.
  10. ^ Weston, J. (2013, May 10). "The Last of the Great Chained Libraries". Retrieved from http://medievalfragments.wordpress.com/2013/05/10/the-last-of-the-great-chained-libraries/
  11. ^ Weston, J. (2013, May 10). "The Last of the Great Chained Libraries". Retrieved from http://medievalfragments.wordpress.com/2013/05/10/the-last-of-the-great-chained-libraries/
  12. ^ Weston, J. (2013, May 10). "The Last of the Great Chained Libraries". Retrieved from http://medievalfragments.wordpress.com/2013/05/10/the-last-of-the-great-chained-libraries/
  13. ^ Weston, J. (2013, May 10). "The Last of the Great Chained Libraries". Retrieved from http://medievalfragments.wordpress.com/2013/05/10/the-last-of-the-great-chained-libraries/
  14. ^ Lopez, B. “New Chained Library of Hereford Cathedral Takes Royal Prize”. American Libraries, 1997, p. 22.
  15. ^ Lopez, B. “New Chained Library of Hereford Cathedral Takes Royal Prize”. American Libraries, 1997, p. 22.
  16. ^ Lopez, B. “New Chained Library of Hereford Cathedral Takes Royal Prize”. American Libraries, 1997, p. 22.
  17. ^ Hereford Cathedral. “The Chained Library”. 2009. Received from http://www.herefordcathedral.org/visit-us/mappa-mundi-1/the-chained-library
  18. ^ Hereford Cathedral. “The Chained Library”. 2009. Received from http://www.herefordcathedral.org/visit-us/mappa-mundi-1/the-chained-library
  19. ^ Hereford Cathedral. “The Chained Library”. 2009. Received from http://www.herefordcathedral.org/visit-us/mappa-mundi-1/the-chained-library
  20. ^ Lopez, B. “New Chained Library of Hereford Cathedral Takes Royal Prize”. American Libraries, 1997, p. 22.
  21. ^ Heald, Tim. "David Williams obituary". The Independent. Retrieved 10 November 2010. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • Streeter, B. H. The Chained Library: a survey of four centuries in the evolution of the English library. London: Macmillan, 1931.

External links[edit]