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Rules of a Medieval Library

No stealing, no talking, no women – the rules you had to follow in a medieval library!

rules medieval library - Old Library, Trinity College - Photo by Swipe/Flickr

When universities started to emerge in Europe during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, they soon also became the most important centres of knowledge on the continent. Their libraries would keep hundreds of books on their shelves, with many of the more important volumes actually chained to desks.

We have few details about how these libraries operated, but one document that sheds light on their operations and rules was created at the University of Angers in western France. Written in the year 1431, it was a kind of rubric to explain what type of rules existed for running the library, although they do not go into specific detail.

Still, they offer much information, including that the custodian of the library had many responsibilities and even had to take an oath when they got the job. Moreover, those using the library had to follow various rules, some of which would be familiar to those using a modern-day library – to be quiet, which books could be taken out of the library, and what the fines were for being overdue.

1. There follows the statutes concerning the common library of the university of Angers and its custodian made in the year of the Lord 1431.

2. Of the oath to be taken by each new custodian of the library.

3. Of the general regimen and custody of the library and its books to be executed by their custodian.

4. Of the privileges which the custodian of the library shall enjoy.

5. To what persons the library shall be open and to whom not, and of its visitation and closing daily by the custodian.

6. At what hours of days on which lectures are given the library shall be closed and at what not.

7. At what hours of days on which lectures are not given and feast days and vacations the library shall be open and at what not.

8. On what feast days throughout the year the library shall be closed and not open.

9. On not drawing out chained books and volumes of the library without obtaining the permission in writing of the rector and college.

10. On visiting the library each year at the close of the university and checking up its inventory and putting it away with the keys of the reading desks in a chest.

11. On not whispering or making a noise or disturbance in the library and on excluding those doing this.

12. On preferring members of the teaching staff to allow others and giving them the place in the library which they want.

13. On not bringing or keeping women in the library building as occasion for sin.

14. On not stealing anything from the library and to whom it is permitted to correct its books and to whom not.

15. On copying lectures and the charges therefor and conversion of them to the perpetual use of the library.

16. On charging for the books and quaternions of the library before they are loaned out and marking them with a sign manual.

17. To whom the unchained books and quaternions of the library may be loaned and to whom not, and of the method of doing this and raising the salary of the custodian.

18. On demanding a fine from those who keep book or quaternions of the library for more than thirty days.

19. Of the faculty granted the custodian of the library of selling for others and not for himself, and of his salary.

20. Of revealing in the college any infractions of these regulations by the custodian of the library.

15th century library - Buchillustration, 15. Jahrhundert Musee Condé, Chantilly

This section was translated in University Records and Life in the Middle Ages, by Lynn Thorndike (Columbia University Press, 1944)

See also: Hidden Wisdom and Unseen Treasure: Revisiting Cataloging in Medieval Libraries

See also: The Libraries of the Byzantine World

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