852 Rare: The Weekly Special-Blast from the Past

Picturing the Harvard Law Library almost 60 years ago…

While assisting a researcher, I came upon an interesting find in the papers of former HLS Dean, Erwin N. Griswold. There, nestled in the first folder of box 306 was a typescript “Guide to the Law Library” from September 1953. It got me thinking about what life was like in the library so many years ago.

Langdell 4th Floor Reading Room, February 1955


Detail from Sept. 1953 “A Guide to the Law Library”








Arthur Clement Pulling (1887-1963), Director of the Law Library for the past ten years had just retired in March. Earl C. Borgeson (1922-2010) was serving as Assistant Librarian for the Law School (and would go on to become Head Librarian, serving until 1970).  A stack inspector roamed the halls of Langdell making sure all books “charged out” to stalls or studies were properly labeled. And according to the Library’s annual report for 1953-1954: 19,634 volumes were acquired bringing the collection to 805,360.

Root Room during the student lounge days, circa 1957

The guide states the following about the Root Room:

The Elihu Root Room is a lounge. In it will be found newspapers, current popular magazines, books of biography, trials, and other non-legal materials. Smoking is permitted; studying is not.

Today, the Law library’s collection has grown by almost a million volumes and this doesn’t include digital content or microforms holdings. We have a sophisticated tracking system for “charging out” books and while some books are still loaned a month at a time, patrons can track their loans and make renewals from anywhere with Internet access. And the room once designated as a study-free zone is now a place where researchers come from around the globe to spend time with one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of research materials for the study of the history of the law.


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