Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Chained libraries and the value of print

click photos to enlarge
The furore over Google's desire to digitise the world's books is a reminder of the power of the printed word. That power derives from its value to publishers, booksellers, and authors in terms of income, but more importantly, from print's ability to convey information across space, time and language barriers. Information is power. But it is also the source of enjoyment, enlightenment, intellectual growth, and much else. Moreover, it has always been these things ever since Johannes Gutenberg, around 1439, first used his printing press with movable type to make multiple copies of books.

Today I was in the Francis Trigge Chained Library in Grantham. This fascinating place is located in a room above the medieval south porch of St Wulfram's church. A chained library is just what those words describe - a collection of books, each of which is chained to a desk or shelf so that it can't be removed from the room, or be stolen. In the first few centuries after the invention of printing books were expensive and precious, and chaining them down was quite a common practice. Usually the books rested on benches so that they could easily be opened. However, in this library later generations installed shelving and so the books are stored vertically, still chained. They are fixed by a metal plate on the edge of an outer cover and consequently when they were put on shelves the cover titles (where they existed) could not be seen. As a result these had to be written across the ends of the pages. The library was established in 1598, and now contains 356 items of which 82 remain chained. The oldest book dates from 1472.

photographs & text (c) T. Boughen

Photo 1 (Photo2)
Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 11mm (22mm/35mm equiv.) (ditto)
F No: f6.3 (ditto)
Shutter Speed: 1/13 (1/40)
ISO: 800 (ditto)
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 (-1.7) EV
Image Stabilisation: On (ditto)