July 23: Middle Temple Law Library

Law libraries fall completely outside of my realm of knowledge. Today, we visited the Middle Temple Law Library, and it was a very interesting and beautiful library. England’s legal system works differently than ours does, but the librarian and our guide, Renae Satterley, made some key differences clear. For the purposes of this post though, the most important piece is that there are four Inns of Court that barristers (lawyers) can belong to. So, Middle Temple’s library is one of four. These Inns have existed since the 1500s, and they have counted Charles Dickens, Bram Stoker, and many others as members. In addition, Middle Temple Law Library was founded in 1641 and survived the Fire of London and the bombings. For a more full explanation of the Inns of Court, I found this Wikipedia page pretty helpful.

Since I had very little previous knowledge of law libraries, I was surprised to find out that they keep a lot of material. They have to keep all previous editions of textbooks because they need to know the history of the law for cases. Since few resources are available online, their physical collection is incredibly impressive. Another fun fact about their collection is that they don’t use labels on the spines of the books. They set their collection up so it is organized by section and then alphabetically by author. Another very impressive fact is that everything in their collection is cataloged: rare books, manuscripts, old textbooks, etc. Since they keep so many items, I can only imagine how much upkeep this is to stay on top of this and make sure they don’t generate any backlog. They also have their own OPAC to make it easier for patrons to search for items. However, they do not have remote access to databases, and they don’t lend books. This makes it essential that they have a nice, welcoming, and available library, which they do. They are open from 9 am – 8 pm and the courts are only open from 10 am – 5pm, which leaves plenty of time for the barristers to utilize the library.

This is just one of the rooms in the library.

This is just one of the rooms in the library.

In addition to looking like a super fancy, gorgeous library, they have really comfy chairs.

A private meeting room with the comfiest chairs!

A private meeting room, the Prince’s Room, with the comfiest chairs!

The vibe in this library was really cool because it was similar to an academic library with a touch more professionalism. In addition, I really loved the architecture, set-up, and decoration of this entire library. It looked and felt like the historic library that it is.

Even though I don’t want to be a law librarian, this visit was still helpful to me.  It wasn’t as intimidating as I thought it would be. I have no experience with law, but for some reason I always imagined that law libraries would be super busy with lawyers constantly demanding very specific, tricky information be delivered to them immediately. Instead, it was very calm. I don’t know why I always thought it was so hectic in law libraries, but that was always how I pictured them. Now that I know that they can be a calm, lovely library like Middle Temple, I could be interested in working in one. It definitely opened my eyes to another option within the LIS field.


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