Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Chained Library at Hereford

Documents dating from the 8th century draw researchers to this old library in the UK. The cathedral stands on a site where worshippers have joined together for twelve-hundred years. Today, the library of the Hereford Cathedral is known for its medieval books and the precious Mappa Mundi, a medieval map that gives visitors an insight as to how medieval scholars saw the world.

The library is perhaps best known for its unique security system. Chaining books was a widespread practice during the Middle Ages, when printed books were priceless and hand-written volumes took years to produce. The Hereford Cathedral library is the largest surviving chained library. The chains, rods, and locks are intact, just as when first utilized.

Chains are attached to the front of the books, and the forepages, instead of the spine, face the front of the shelf. That way, the books can be removed for reading at the desk, without the risk of tangling the chain. The library also has blocks and printing presses from 1611. Music recitals and other cultural events are held there. The library currently serves as a research center for the cathedral, and is a major tourist attraction for the town of Hereford.


Jacqueline Seewald said...

I didn't realize they chained books but it makes sense. As you note, books were precious in the Middle Ages. Each one was handwritten. It wasn't until the Reformation and the Guttenberg press that books became available. The printing press was the computer of its time since it started a technological information revolution.

Leigh D'Ansey said...

Joyce - what a fascinating post. I wonder how many books produced today will still be in existence hundreds of years into the future. I'd love to visit this library. Thanks for telling us about it.

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Jacqueline: I didn't know they chained books either, until I started reading about these old libraries. Like you said, the books were so priceless before the printing press, I guess they were like the Hope diamond or an original Renoir, so the book guardians would have taken any means they could to avoid theft, although a lot of conquering armies took books and others burned them. I guess it was like stealing the royal treasury. thanks for the comment. Yours are always interesting.

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Leigh: Thanks for stopping by. BTW, enjoyed your guest post on your blog. She wrote about an interesting topic! Re library, I was surprised to learn about this chained library. I read a lot about the scriptoriums where they copied the books, but never knew they chained them in the libraries.

Anonymous said...

I think it's a great idea and academic libraries in particular should return to this method of retaining key texts ;-)


A Librarian

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Tegels: I thought academic libraries were pretty closely watched. I didn't know that was such a problem. I do know that our own local library has had to re-order one of my books three times because people just check it out and never bring it back. (It's a regional book that gives directions to different sites--I guess they just put it in their travel file and to heck with others who may want to read it. Thanks for stopping by. I love all librarians!