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.
assure that books were not moved from their rightful lectern,
they were chained to it.
This constraint led to other
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
Wayne Homren, Editor
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