852 RARE: Life Without HOLLIS

We couldn’t let 2009 slip by without noting the 100th anniversary of the publication of the Catalogue of the Library of the Law School of Harvard University, otherwise known as the “1909 Catalogue,” a stout, succinct, two volume set that proved so useful a facsimile reprint was published in 1967—and is still in use. The preface to that reprint, by Dennis & Co. Inc. of Buffalo, N.Y., explains that “this catalogue … out of print for many years … has been considered one of the indispensable tools for use in a Law library.” The company reproduced it “at the many requests from Law librarians …”

The Library’s first printed catalog came out in 1826, nine years after the School was founded, when the collection numbered about 12,000 books. By 1908, that number had grown to 111,000 —most dramatically in the years after Christopher Columbus Langdell became Dean. Despite this growth the Library had not published a catalog since 1846.

By 1909, the Harvard Law School Library had a growing collection of foreign law and legal works, but the scope of the 1909 catalog is limited to American law and English common law.

For all its limitations—especially in this day of electronic searching—the 1909 catalog is clear and easy to use, and is especially helpful for finding primary materials such as state session laws and court reports, editions of which are displayed in an immediately comprehensible form.

A few archaic library conventions may confuse modern patrons; book size is given as “8vo” (octavo) or “4to” (quarto), for example.

Preparations for the 1909 catalog began in 1902, headed up by Assistant Librarian Charles F. D. Belden (1870-1931). Correspondence between Belden and various local printers competing for the Library’s contract give an indication of the enormity and complexity of the task, and offer a fascinating glimpse into the nuts and bolts of producing a printed catalog over 100 years ago. In the end, the Library chose H.O. Houghton & Company’s Riverside Press over at least three other Boston presses and John Wilson & Son’s University Press in Cambridge. Many galley proofs later, it was published.

The final line of the catalog’s preface is somewhat enigmatic and may reveal weariness on the part of the Assistant Librarian: “The progress of the work has been much delayed, owing to various changes in the catalogue staff, and a long illness of an important assistant.” A planned third volume—a subject index—was in the works but never reached fruition.

Post contributed by:
Mary Person
Rare Books Cataloguer

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