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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Books on a shelf

Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

Unchained Melody; Or How to House a Chained Book

In Medieval Europe books were a precious commodity. Books were hand-copied manuscripts, and might be fashioned with metal hardware to chain them to a bookcase or desk to protect them from theft.

MS D84, Sermones de sanctis

Sermones de sanctis by Frater Soccus. [Germany?] ca. 1370. Call Number: MS D84

This book is a bound manuscript likely from Germany, dated circa 1370. The text is Sermones de sanctis (call number: MS D84), writings of Frater Soccus, a monk from the Cistercian order.  The pigskin binding, tooled all over the covers, has a chain attached to the back board at the top. Storing this on a modern shelf created problems, as the chain drapes down the back cover and makes it impossible to place another book next to it.

To allow for proper shelving, I created a clamshell box made from blue corrugated cardboard.  This board has a pH of above 7 (is “alkaline”) and is designed to protect materials as they age and degrade.  Inside the clamshell I used another corrugated board (this time gray) with a channel cut to guide the user to place the book in the box. There are directions on the outside of the box if a user is unsure how to return it to its box, which is a fast and easy structure to complete.

MS D84 with its clamshell box

MS D84 in its clamshell box

To learn more about chained bindings, see Henry Petroski’s The Book on the Bookshelf, housed in KU’s Watson Library (call number: Z685 .P48 1999).

Whitney Baker,
Head, Conservation Services

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