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BLAWg In Bloom

The Indiana Law Library Blog

Don’t Know Much About [the Law Library’s] History

Looking forward to today’s dedication of the Reference Office in honor of Colleen Kristl Pauwels, former Director of the Law Library, I became curious about our Law Library’s history.  After all, the Law School has been around since 1842, so there’s quite a history to be found.  Digging around in our archives, I pieced together a [mostly complete] picture of the Law Library’s history, and thought I’d share my findings.  For instance, did you know our Law Library’s collection has been destroyed twice by fire?  Curious?  Read on!

Law Library 1906The Law School was established in 1842, originally as a law department in the university.  The Law Library began the following year, in 1843, when the Indiana University trustees gave Professor McDonald, the head of the law department, $100 to purchase books for the collection.  At the time, it is believed that the Law Library was housed in the University Library.  That initial collection of books was destroyed by a fire in 1854, which also destroyed the collections in the University and Literary Society Libraries.

As will happen throughout any school’s long history, the Law School has relocated to several different buildings throughout its history, especially in the beginning.  Around 1870 the Law School moved to a building that fronted the courthouse square, and only part of the Law Library moved with it, the rest remaining at the University Library.  Students at the time complained about this split in the collection, because it was so cumbersome to have to travel to the University Library to see the other portion of the Law Library’s collection.  When the Law School closed from 1877-1889 due to lack of funds, the Law Library’s collection returned to the University Library – only to be consumed by yet another fire in 1883!

In 1889, when the Law School re-opened, it moved to Maxwell Hall, and the Law Library was finally housed in the same building as the school.  With the Law Library collection having been destroyed twice by fire, the collection at this time was still relatively small, and mostly consisted of donations; but starting in 1891, the Indiana University trustees began approving funding ($1,500 in 1891) to increase the Law Library collection.  By 1901-02, the Law Library was up to 4,500 volumes, consisting of materials we still commonly rely on today – reporters, legal encyclopedias, etc.  In an effort to further expand the collection, the Law Library’s annual budget was increased from $600 to $1,200 that year as well.

The Law School didn’t remain in Maxwell for long, moving to Kirkwood Hall in 1894 and into Wylie Hall in 1904 or 1905.  During this time, the University Library moved into Maxwell Hall, but by 1907 a Library Building had been constructed, and the University Library was poised to vacate Maxwell again.  It was decided that the Law School would return to Maxwell Hall, and a three-story addition was added to the building to accommodate this move.  The University Library move-out and Law School move-in occurred over the holidays in 1907, but unfortunately they ran out of time and manpower to move the Law Library and its 6,000-volume collection before the start of classes that spring.  The law students at the time did not want to be separated from the books they so frequently relied on in the Law Library, so they volunteered to move the collection themselves!  As a result, 75 law students moved the entire collection in just two hours one Saturday that spring semester.Law Library 1940

From 1908 to 1914 another appeal for Law Library funding helped to significantly increase the collection, such that by 1914 the Law Library saw the need for a full-time staff member to manage the collection.  Samuel Dargan was appointed Curator of the Law Library in 1914, and served in this position until 1948.  Up until this point, the Law Library had always been maintained by a law student.  (Fun fact: one of these law students in charge of the Law Library was none other than Sherman Minton, who went on to become a Supreme Court Justice!) 

In 1925, the collection was up to 14,350 volumes, and the need for an experienced librarian arose.  Rowena Compton was therefore hired as the first Law Librarian at our Law Library, and faced the task of properly cataloging our collection for the first time.  Under her direction the collection grew to over 20,000 volumes by 1930.  When Compton retired in 1930, Mary Jean Ashman assumed leadership of the Law Library; for the first time, the Law Librarian position also included responsibilities as Instructor for Legal Bibliography.  During her tenure, the Law Library increased in space, when the Law School Administration moved to another building; Ashman used this increased space to enlarge the reading room and add more tables and chairs to double the seating capacity.

It is at this point, in the 1930s, that my research faltered a bit.  Most resources I used to create this blog post provided historical coverage only, ending in the 1930s.  Mary Jean Ashman retired in 1949, and Betty V. LeBus became Director of the Law Library, serving in this role from 1950-1978.  Looking at an ABA Site Re-Inspection report from 1977, it seems that the Law Library’s reputation wavered between 1950 and 1980, due to lack of funding for collection development, space, and staffing.  When Colleen Pauwels became Director of the Law Library in 1979, she was asked to create a long-range plan to remedy this.

IMG_0067Through her directorship of 33 years, Colleen built the Law Library’s reputation back up by securing an addition to the Law Library, increasing our staffing, and increasing our book budget.  Her tenure as Director saw the Law Library transition into the age of computers, the Internet, and cutting-edge technologies like CD-ROMs (okay, at one time they were considered cutting-edge!) and wireless connectivity.  We have always endeavored to meet the evolving needs of our students and faculty, and Colleen was a driving force for that ideal.  Through her efforts, our Law Library today is recognized as one of the best in the nation.  It is only fitting, therefore, that, if the Reference Office be named for anyone, it be named in honor of and in gratitude to Colleen Kristl Pauwels.

(Image 1: Law Library, circa 1906)

(Image 2: Law Library, 1940)

(Image 3: Law Library today)

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