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Before the printing press made books cheap and easily available, books in the Middle Ages were incredibly scarce and precious. Without a method to mass produce, each book had to carefully copied by hand that took thousands of hours of skilled work. During the later middle ages, when publicly accessible libraries came into being, books were often chained to the shelves allowing the public to read, while at the same time safe-guarding the library’s valuable collection from potential thieves.

The chains were fitted to the corner or cover of the books via ringlets, and were long enough to allow the books to be taken from their shelves and read, but not removed from the library itself. Only the librarian could remove the books from the chain using a key. The books were typically shelved with their foredges facing the reader, rather than their spines. This may seem like the wrong way, but it did allow the books to be lifted down and opened without needing to be turned around, thus avoiding tangling the chain.

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A chained book from Guildhall Library, a former chained library in London. Photo credit

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© Amusing Planet, 2015.





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