The Library That Locked Its Readers in Cages

Owen Massey McKnight, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
Owen Massey McKnight, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0 / Owen Massey McKnight, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

With National Library Week upon us, it's a good time to remind people that visiting a library can be a captivating experience. For people browsing Ireland’s Marsh Library, that feeling may have been slightly more intense. During the 18th century, readers would be locked in cages.

Located in Dublin, Marsh's Library was founded in 1707 by Archbishop Narcissus Marsh and was host to a number of titles. Some of them were rare, and early on, the library had problems with theft. More than 1000 books were stolen in its first decade of operation. To protect their inventory, librarians created three small alcoves with locking wire doors. If a reader wanted to peruse a particularly valuable volume, they would have to agree to be contained in the alcove so they didn’t run off with the book.

Marsh’s was the first public library in Ireland, and the concept of a place where people could go, borrow a book, and then be trusted to return it was still something of a leap of faith.

The library is still open today, cages intact, though no one expects visitors to submit to the holding cells in order to read.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]