The old library was contained under one roof. It was firmly and solidly built, and was 120 feet long by 36 feet broad. Further, that it might be the more safe from the danger of being burnt, should any house in the[Pg 40] neighbourhood catch fire, there was a sufficient interval between it and every dwelling-house. Each side was pierced with 19 windows of equal size, that plenty of daylight both from the east and the west (for this was the direction of the room) might fall upon the desks, and fill the whole length and breadth of the library. There were 28 desks, marked with the letters of the alphabet, five feet high, and so arranged that they were separated by a moderate interval. They were loaded with books, all of which were chained, that no sacrilegious hand might [carry them off. These chains were attached to the right-hand board of every book] so that they might be readily thrown aside, and reading not be interfered with. Moreover the volumes could be opened and shut without difficulty. A reader who sat down in the space between two desks, as they rose to a height of five feet as I said above, neither saw nor disturbed any one else who might be reading or writing in another place by talking or by any other interruption, unless the other student wished it, or paid attention to any question that might be put to him. It was required, by the ancient rules of the library, that reading, writing, and handling of books should go forward in complete silence.
This system must have been very wasteful as regards space; for only a few volumes, say a couple of dozen, could be accommodated on a single desk. As books accumulated therefore some other form of case had to be devised,[Pg 41] which would accommodate more volumes than could be consulted at once. The desk could not be dispensed with so long as books were chained, but one or more shelves were added to it. This addition was effected in two ways, according as the books were to stand on their ends, or to lie on their sides.Next: Merton College Library