The Last of the Great Chained Libraries

God Jul och en Gott Nytt År! Though I hope many of you are out a-wassalling or watching balls drop or carrying on with some other First Night shenanigans, I bring you quiet bookworms curled up at home this post from medievalfragments. It is about chained libraries, an interesting step in the history of books, libraries, and open access to information. Think of it as the grandfather of your local library and the great-grandpappy of your free Kindle classics. Though this post is not strictly about banned books, this blog is dedicated to intellectual freedom and that freedom is contingent upon access, regardless of financial or social status. Anyway, enjoy the article and raise a glass with me to books, the freedom to read, and the New Year. Waes heal, readers. I’ll see you on the other side.


By Jenny Weston

On a beautiful sunny day last week, the Turning Over a New Leaf project team decided to take a day off from the office to visit a spectacular chained library in the small town of Zutphen (located in the eastern part of the Netherlands). Built in 1564 as part of the church of St Walburga, it is one of only five chained libraries in the world that survive ‘intact’—that is, complete with the original books, chains, rods, and furniture.

Needless to say, it was a rather surreal moment for all of us to step into the little room to see the dark-wood lecterns, upon which were placed (in neat rows, side-by-side) beautiful 15th- and 16th-century books, secured in place by metal chains.

Looking closer, it is possible to see just how the chained-library system works. Each book is fitted with a metal clasp, usually on the back cover…

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About boundandgaggedbooks

Shannon is a freelance writer and folklore buff. She has a degree from Hampshire College in Creative Writing/Mythology & Religion, with an emphasis on epic/oral traditions, their anthropological implications, and their modern counterparts. Her work can be found in Fabulously Feminist, Wolf Wariors: The National Wolfwatcher Coalition Anthology, The Concord Monitor, Redhead Magazine, and The Climax.

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