As we celebrate the founding of the BYU Law School 50 years ago, it is fun to look back on the beginnings of the BYU Law Library and how far we’ve come. Starting a library from scratch is not easy, but Dean Rex E. Lee wanted the library to be among the finest in the United States. By its first year of operation in its temporary location at St. Francis Catholic School (affectionally know as St. Reuben’s), the Law Library staff had put together a collection of approximately 75,000 to 100,000 volumes. Boxes and boxes of books from West (now Thomson Reuters, owner of Westlaw) arrived at the temporary accommodations.

The foundation of the library: Boxes of books from West Publishing in St. Paul, MN

Nevertheless, the first student guide to using the library contained the following disclaimer:

“The Law Library is new. A number of important legal materials were no longer available or out of print when purchasing of the law books began. Books not in the Law Library should be requested on a Book Request Form” at the Circulation Desk.” Brigham Young University, J. Reuben Clark Law School, Law Library Guide 1973

During the two years the Law Library was housed in the old St. Francis School building, the “Great Hall” housed both the library’s collection of State Reports and Early American Reports, along with a large classroom space, as seen here below.

Roy Mersky, Director of the Tarlton Law Library at the University of Texas at Austin, consulted on the creation of the new library. Roy Mersky, who trained many law librarians over decades during his career, sadly passed away while I was a student in 2009 at the University of Texas when I studied for a Master’s of Information Science.

By its second year in operation, the BYU Law Library already had the largest collection in the intermountain West. Over the years, the Law Library has expanded its collection to approximately 700,000 volumes, including e-books.

Legal research has changed dramatically since the Law Library’s first years. Most of legal research and our research instruction centers on using digital collections. BYU Law Library was among the first to implement computer-aided legal research. An early Lexis terminal is on display in the second floor reserve room.

Computing technology in the library

One thing that hasn’t changed is the provision of individual study carrels for all law students. The original law library housed 420 individual study carrels; the current library holds 469. Few if any law libraries in the United States offer this benefit to all law students. The brochure used to recruit the Law School’s Charter class of 1976 stated:

“Each carrel will be equipped with private storage space for books and personal belongings and will be of sufficient size to offer permanent and individual ‘offices’ to virtually every member of the student body… The entire library area will be carpeted and carefully lighted in order to provide an ideal study environment.” Brigham Young University Bulletin, J. Reuben Clark Law School 1972-1973

We are thrilled to celebrate 50 years of the BYU Law School and Law Library. Please visit the Law Library’s exhibit on Friday this week in front of the second floor reserve room to view one of the first study carrels with chair, a painting of the Law School exterior by the architectural firm that designed the building, ping pong paddles from the (disputed) winners of the first ever Law School ping pong tournament, and more!