Transitions in Langdell: Announcing a New Display

Visit the Langdell Reference display case to learn about transitions in the Harvard Law School Library.

The Harvard Law School Library is the largest academic law library in the world. Established in 1817, the library has continued to reinvent itself to meet the needs of the law school.

In 1981, for example, the library underwent a significant reorganization. The library sought to provide a standardized “machine-readable” catalog, expand the microforms room, purchase “telefacsimile” machines, and acquire more than one LEXIS terminal (and add Westlaw). By the way, until 1988, students could still smoke in the library.

In 1997, the library underwent a significant physical renovation. At this time, air-conditioning was installed, elevators were added – as were women’s bathrooms (where there had only been one).

In 2009, the library (again) reorganized to meet strategic initiatives. Functions are being streamlined for greater efficiency that will enable the library to expand services to continue to meet new demands. The library seeks to offer empirical research support, collect more interdisciplinary and international materials – and to support Harvard Law School’s Programs of Study.

The four main library service units are:

• Collection Development and Digitization
• Discovery and Access
• Management of Circulating Collections
• Research Curriculum and Publication Support

The Collection Development and Digitization unit differs most markedly from any unit in the previous organization. It consolidates support for the library’s digital initiatives in one place, with the goal of creating an in-house digital lab.

In 1965, librarian Earl Borgenson, commenting on the library of 2015, said:

The skilled acquisition people will see that all [relevant] materials get into this collection, the trained catalogers will see that records reflecting many legal concepts lead the user to useful books; personable reference people will patiently give personal attention to research problems and try to smooth the way by anticipating problems that repeat; students, faculty and alumni will continue to make demands that justify the library we have and challenge us to make it better.

A personable reference person is still available at the Reference Desk or at 617.495.4516.


Special thanks to Margaret Peachy of Special Collections for her invaluable curatorial skills.

Special thanks to all those in the library who contributed memorabilia and institutional knowledge.

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