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The E-Sylum:  Volume 3, Number 22, May 28, 2000, Article 5

THE CHAINED LIBRARY 

   Over the past few weeks your editor has been squeezing in 
   time to read "The Book on the Bookshelf" by Henry Petrosky, 
   first profiled in The E-Sylum on October 25, 1999.  The book 
   is a fascinating account of the evolution of the bookshelf, 
   something we bibliophiles take for granted today. 

   One step in the evolution was the chained library.  In the era 
   preceding the modern printing press, books were laboriously 
   hand-made and thus all were quite rare and valuable.  "To 
   assure that books were not moved from their rightful lectern, 
   they were chained to it.  This constraint led to other 
   developments, for 

      A chained book cannot be read unless there is some 
      kind of desk or table on which to rest it within the 
      length of the chain; that fact conditioned the structure 
      of the bookcase.  Again, since a chained book cannot 
      be moved to the window, the window must be near 
      the book; that determined the plan of the building... 

   Among the first implications of chaining was to obviate the 
   need for the constant availability of keys to unlock rooms, 
   chests, or armaria.  The books were openly available but 
   secured by chains that ended in rings strung on a long rod, 
   as shower curtain rings are on a shower rod." p60. 

   About a week after reading this passage I was struck with 
   a realization that the evolution continues today, and in one 
   sense has come full circle.  Today's scholars sit not just in 
   front of books, but computer screens as well.  While 
   becoming less expensive each year, computers are still a 
   valuable item that the owners don't want to "walk away". 

   At my office I use a laptop computer, and when I'm not 
   carrying it with me, it remains fastened to the desk by the 
   means of a long, low-tech chain.  Someday technology 
   will further reduce the cost of the device such that the 
   chains will once again disappear from desks, no doubt to 
   return again to secure the next generation's newfangled 
   devices. 

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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