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The Graduate and Professional School Libraries

Harvard Law School Library

Report of Harry S. Martin III, Henry N. Ess III Librarian and Professor of Law


The mission of the Harvard Law School Library is to provide information resources and research services that will assist the Harvard Law School (HLS) in becoming the premier center in the world for legal scholarship and training in the 21st century. An important subsidiary mission is to deal responsibly with the extensive collections acquired to date, whatever their current level of use. We also serve as the legal reference collection for the University.

The Law School now manages the second largest library at Harvard, with a staff of 94 permanent employees on an annual budget of $12.6 million. Its extensive special collections are widely known. Besides current professional research, the Law School Library supports a wide range of historical and international scholarship. The collections stand at 1.74 million books and bound manuscripts, 480,000 volume-equivalents in roll microform or microfiche, significant manuscript holdings, and a unique art collection. Since World War II the School has acquired more than 20,000 new books each year. In recent years, annual weeding of the book stock, including conversion to microform, has approached 5,000 volumes.


Largest Law Library Collections


On June 30, 2006, I completed 25 years as the director of the Harvard Law School Library. Much has changed over those 25 years by way of automation, web-based information resources, building improvements, and the like. What has not changed is the library's preeminence. However, rank used to be measured in terms of collection size; now the library profession is actively searching for more qualitative standards.

Our law library used to be collection-driven: the time and energy of most staff was devoted to managing the physical movement of materials. Though collection management still devours resources, more time is now devoted to service operations, and the mental orientation of most staff is focused on serving faculty and students. Of everything that has been accomplished in the past 25 years, and despite recognizing that services can still improve, I am most proud of this commitment to service.

As one example, our most popular staff member is a virtual construct, FRIDA. Our Faculty Research and Information Delivery Assistance service is actually composed of a dozen full-time and part-time staff. This past year, Mindy Kent, document delivery librarian, expanded FRIDA operations to meet growing faculty needs, adding evening hours and hiring three additional temps as well as taking on another full-time staff member who was moved to the FRIDA operation. At the same time, she expanded our interlibrary loan capacity by beginning to use the OCLC ILL system. The timing of this proved extremely fortuitous, as the other major bibliographic network (RLIN) that had been our primary interlibrary loan vehicle merged with (was acquired by) OCLC this summer.

In general, over the past 25 years, reference work in the library has changed significantly. Some changes are obvious, as the tools of legal research have changed. In general, I see two major shifts. Reference work is now more proactive and less reactive, and encounters at the reference desk are fewer in number but more intense. 25 years ago, questions were often directional (Where do you shelve? or Where is the photocopier?), bibliographic (What does this abbreviation mean?), factual (What's the address of Judge Minor Wisdom?), or launching (Where can I find references on rendition?). Now they tend to be more strategic and interdisciplinary, requiring longer interactions to explain the existence and use of various sources. Twenty-five years ago, reference staff waited for people to approach the desk. Now they spend significant time developing research guides for the library's web site as a resource. Since the initial impulse of most students is to jump on the web, our research guides (, guides for subciters (, and various online forms ( often preclude the need to visit the library. The same goes for faculty. For example, responding to faculty requests for more support with using numerical and statistical databases, Michael Jimenez, reference librarian and coordinator of electronic information services took the lead in developing our Data Resources web page ( which has received accolades not only from the HLS faculty but also from others outside the Law School, such as researchers at the Program on Empirical Legal Studies and librarians at Numeric Data Services and the Business School.

Aligning the expertise of the reference staff with the program needs of the Law School is a constant challenge. ILS reference staff work closely with faculty in international law. Specialized librarians are actually partially funded by the East Asian and Islamic law programs. Special collections staff members work closely with our historians. Associate Librarian Kim Dulin has been discussing information needs with staff from the Petri-Flom Center. This year we filled one reference line with a graduate of Franklin Pierce Law School (JD and master's in intellectual property). In addition to normal reference duties, she will be working closely with the Pro Bono Service Program assisting students doing legal research for attorneys or offices identified by the program. All faculty are assigned library liaisons, though many place few demands on library staff. The corporate group has asked for a dedicated librarian, but we have not been able to arrange such an assignment as yet.

After experimenting last year with 24-hour access to the library, general hours of service were set this year from 8 am until 2 am. Requests in the spring exam period for longer hours led us again to sit down with the Dean of Students staff and try to explore alternatives. The Cabot Science Library has been open overnight for some years. Lamont Library tried overnight access this year, staffed by graduate students, and will use regular staff to maintain overnight hours in the coming academic year. We are still exploring staffing options, including restricting late-night access to the second floor of Langdell-the Lemann Lounge, periodical area, and computer lab. This would require hardware changes at some doors and reprogramming of elevators but looks doable.

Book collections have, of course, grown substantially over the past 25 years. Virtually every item on our open stacks has been published since I came to Harvard. But overall the amount of space devoted to books on campus continues to shrink. If not discarded, donated to an overseas library, or converted to microform, books that used to be shelved in the attic of Austin or the basements of Griswold, Areeda, Shaw, Story, Ames, and Dane are now in the Harvard Depository (HD) in Southborough. Only three storage areas in the basement of Pound Hall still have overflow shelving, and we now have a five-year project under way to move those books out as well. In addition, all official state reports were sent to HD this spring in order to clear space for the nine emeriti offices being constructed now in Langdell. That construction concluded with minimal impact on library operations or on users' sensibilities.

In the long term, I would prefer all general book collections be integrated into Langdell. The international nature of research now makes the physical separation of our collections annoying at the least. Staff could be used more efficiently with one circulation and security point. But this probably means finding another location for our extensive special collections.

Processing materials for HD has the beneficial side effect of providing the digital information, known as metadata, that lets the Harvard-Google Project consider them for scanning-if out of copyright, if not too fragile, if bound, if not too large, etc. Unfortunately, these exclusionary conditions eliminate the majority of our collections from being scanned by Google. As a result, to provide digital copies of our historical collections we either have to scan them ourselves or rely on commercial publishers.

We have had some positive experiences with commercial publishers. Parts of our collections have been microfilmed and the resulting reprints have produced significant royalties. Some of these sets have now been digitized. For example, the Making of Modern Law (MOML) is a full-text, fully searchable database containing over 21,000 works on United States and British law published from 1800 through 1926. This e-book collection is derived from the microfiche collection of 19th- and 20th-century legal treatises owned by Harvard. Catalog records with links to the electronic copy have just been loaded into HOLLIS.

As for our own projects, the Nuremberg Trials Project—digitized documents relating to the war crimes tribunals held after World War II—is stalled until we find more funding. We have a collection of 700 18th- and 19th-century British trials being republished through the Harvard University Library's Digital Repository Service and have all but completed a digital collection of English legal broadsides. We continue to expand our online collection of legal portraits. Spurred by the Law School's plans to develop a closer relationship with the University of Tokyo, we prepared our small but interesting collection of historical Japanese legal scrolls for digitization by the Digital Imaging Group in the Harvard College Library. These should be completed later this year. Using a gift from Norm Tomlinson, we are planning a project to digitize significant portions of our extensive collection of items relating to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Most of our internal digitizing projects have focused, and should continue to focus, on our special collections: being unique, they are unlikely to have commercial competition; being fragile and valuable, in many cases, we prefer to have the scanning done in house. We are fortunate to have an excellent, ongoing relationship with the Harvard College Library's Digital Imaging Group. We hired a new staff member this year, Mindy Johnston, as curator of digital and visual resources to coordinate these digitizing projects as well as to look after the art collection in general. Mindy has several years of experience with digital projects at the Chicago Historical Society.

Mindy has also updated the inventory of our portrait collection. We've made estimates of current valuations and have segmented the collection into Harvard, American, and foreign subjects. Theodore Stebbins from the Fogg Art Museum has walked through the collection and will provide input on current valuations and possibilities for deaccessioning (an ugly term but the one used by the trade).

Bob Buckwalter's retirement as associate librarian for collection services required some reorganization. Since he has no real counterpart in other law libraries, some reorganization was necessary in any event. Cathy Conroy is now the associate librarian for collection and administrative services. Kim Dulin, associate librarian for research services, has taken management responsibility for collection development. We have two full-time and several part-time bibliographers who select, deselect, review standing orders, make decisions on locations and multiple copies, review electronic options, and so forth. Reference librarians are also active in reviewing collection policy decisions. There are clear advantages to having law-trained people involved in deciding what materials to get and keep. But with our Anglo-American bibliographer and two of the reference librarians most involved in collection management currently out on maternity leave, it will be some months before an effective assessment of collection development operations can be made.

Collection development is complicated for us by several factors. Prices rise faster than our budget. West prices have increased an average of 12% annually over the past five years (we anticipate spending over $550,000 with West this year). The number of monographs acquired goes down each year. We cut $225,000 in foreign and domestic subscriptions from our base budget last year. It required lots of analysis, consultation with affected faculty, communication with suppliers, and changes to our records. The core collections remain strong, but an annual exercise like this will sooner rather than later require us to forego collecting in certain subjects or jurisdictions. We have negotiated a discount with our major Canadian supplier and are talking with West about a multi-year contract that would cap annual price increases at a fixed percent.

At the same time, new research programs at the Law School and new faculty with PhDs require us to maintain, if not expand, collecting in subjects beyond law. With local users actively involved in bioethics or political science, duplicating some print materials in these subjects is inevitable, even if strong collections exist elsewhere at Harvard. With electronic copies, however, cooperative acquisition makes much sense. My staff and I spend significant amounts of time analyzing and discussing the acquisition of electronic resources by the Harvard University Library. Most of the $240,000 we will spend this year on electronic resources will go to the University Library for our share of resources available to all Harvard users. Another $100,000 will go to Lexis and Westlaw for HLS users. A small amount goes to the New England Law Library Consortium for specialized legal resources of no interest to other Harvard users.

The availability of web-based resources has been having a substantial impact on our collecting decisions. It is quite regular now to forego purchasing print copies for something available online. It is more than occasionally that we cancel print subscriptions and rely on online copies. One major problem, however, is having the catalog keep up with such decisions. It is not common practice to catalog electronic resources unless we actually outlay funds for them. But this is a problem common to all law libraries, and cooperative solutions seem preferable to large investments of our own staff time, since any records we create would immediately be available to other libraries.

Greater reliance on electronic resources has increased concerns with the persistence of these resources. Harvard is a founding member of the Legal Information Preservation Alliance (LIPA). Semiannual LIPA meetings have produced an inventory system, but much education still needs to be done. Fortunately, this is an active area of concern for the general library community as well, which has made resources and extensive expertise available.

Our interactions with the Harvard University Library become more intense each year. HOLLIS and other catalogs, an automated library information system, the Harvard Depository, acquisition of electronic resources, and conversion and preservation of digital resources are all activities or products that it makes sense to centralize. But ensuring that these centralized systems produce the benefits we want for HLS requires a great investment in staff time and is not without tensions, as philosophies of service differ among the tubs.

Reactivating the Library Committee this year has been beneficial. Several orientation sessions were arranged introducing members to various aspects of library operations. As resources are redeployed in the coming years, the committee's input will be crucial. The committee also played a key role in defining the charge for the outside Advisory Committee Dean Kagan appointed to review the Law Library during the 2006-2007 school year. Personally, I consider this a great opportunity to clarify the strategic direction for the Law Library in the coming decade. Some of the topics that seem likely to catch the attention of this committee are whether the library and its services are aligned properly with the various research interests and activities of the Law School; whether we are properly managing the move from an analog to a digital world of information, which also involves a shift from purchased to licensed resources; and what the proper role of the library should be in the general world of legal scholarship. Others naturally view us as leaders, but our leadership role has been largely ancillary to our service to the Law School rather than intentional. With increased resources, we could surely offer even more to legal scholars and to the various publics with intense needs for legal information.