Chained to the library

Chained library books at Chelsea Old Church

Don’t even THINK about running off with these books! You wouldn’t get far. Chained library at Chelsea Old Church, London. Image courtesy of Colin Smith, Wikimedia Commons.

Librarians love their books. They like it when you return a book on time (they’re funny that way), enjoy pointing you toward the right shelf to find the book you want and use their handy computers to let you borrow books from other libraries. (Thank you, inter-library loan.)

Some librarians love their books so much, they won’t even let them leave the library! Enter the concept of the chained library. Between the Middle Ages and the 18th century, books were valuable and they didn’t want to risk someone borrowing a book without returning it. So some bright person came up with the idea of attaching a metal chain and ring to the outer cover or corner of the book to prevent the reader from absconding with it. The idea gradually caught on.

I’ve been fascinated with chained libraries since I first read about them in a British magazine and hope to see one someday. I always wonder: Is the chain really long? Is it heavy? Does it ever get kinked up when you’re removing the book from the shelf?

Although chained libraries are rare these days, there are a few remaining examples in England. According to Wikipedia, there is a Francis Trigge Chained Library in Grantham, Lincolnshire. Other chained libraries can be found at the Royal Grammar School in Guildford, Surrey, Chelsea Old Church in London and Hereford Cathedral in Hereford, Herefordshire. (I’m suffering from McVities’ biscuit withdrawal and feel a plane trip coming on! Where’s my passport?)

Or if you want to see a library like this and can’t travel to England right now, check out Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and watch carefully. There are chained books in the scene where Harry uses his Invisibility Cloak to visit the restricted section of Hogwarts’ library at night. Have fun!

Chained library bookshelf in Hereford Cathedral

Drawing of chained library bookshelf in Hereford Cathedral. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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22 Comments

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22 responses to “Chained to the library

  1. I found this post fascinating. I’d love to do a “chained library tour”.

  2. What a fun post! Now I want to go back to England (what else is new?) and see a chained library for myself. But I can’t, so I’m definitely going to pull out my HP DVD and look for that scene!

  3. Fascinating — they seem to cherish books as much as I do — thanks for the post.

  4. I had no idea this existed! Shall we travel back in time for a vacation and check out chained libraries, printers and binders? 🙂

    • Sounds good. You, the other Cecile’s Writers, me, Deetda, Jaclyn and the other book lovers reading this post. We could all meet in London. I wonder if Dr. Who’s Tardis is available? 😉

  5. Fascinating post. 🙂 Love the idea of chained libraries.

  6. I’ve heard of chained libraries, and also how you had to ask the library for a book because they were kept behind the desk. I used to grouse about how my classroom books would not be returned to the shelf by students, and decided to let go of my frustration by gifting the books. Logic being, if they want them so bad to keep them, they must like them. At least that’s what I tell myself.

    Fun post — thanks!

  7. What an interesting concept! I do remember that scene in Harry Potter, yet I always believed it was part of the restricted section of the library. I had no idea chained libraries actually existed! Thank you for my fun fact of the day. 🙂

  8. I like your question about the chain. I keep picturing telephone cords and getting tangled up in them all the way through high school.

  9. This is fascinating. I am enjoying your blog. I like the idea of a chained library (to an extent). What I like is imagining these librarians, these guards, these protectors of the written word. Going to such lengths to preserve ideas and stories. I can think of many reasons why someone would decide chaining books is a good idea, but I wonder what the actual reasons were at the time. No doubt some, or most, of the books were originals. No doubt books were a far cry from an everyday household item, therefore not easily replaced. No doubt some of the tales within were considered scandalous (just about every story is, to someone). In the end, it is good. To preserve our written history. I am thankful today books have evolved and cultures have evolved so that in many places, books are available to all. It is in the parts of our world where this is not the case — that someday, I hope to bring about a change. Thank you for the thought-provoking post.

    • I would hope to see more books available for everyone, everywhere, to combat illiteracy. Author David Baldacci is interested in this — he’s created the Wish You Well foundation for just this purpose.

  10. As a writer, I like the notion that volumes are this precious. Not to mention the idea of books in bondage! 🙂

  11. Great post! Arrrgh! Now I’ll be researching chained libraries, instead of working on my next blog entry….Thankfully, I’m almost done with it! 😉

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