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Law Library History

A Brief History : Montague Law Library

By Mark W. Podvia

Located in the Dickinson School of Law’s Lewis Katz Hall, the H. Laddie Montague, Jr. Law Library—named for H. Laddie Montague, Class of 1963—provides a state-of the art research facility for Dickinson Law's students, faculty and staff.  However, this modern facility emerged from relatively humble beginnings.

In October, 1890, the first classes were held at the newly-reopened Dickinson School of Law, then housed in Dickinson College’s Emory Hall.  Whatever library might have existed at Judge John Reed’s 1834 law school had long since disappeared.  According to the June, 1898, issue of The Forum, “When the school opened...it had not a single book.”

It was left to Dean William Trickett to address this situation.  Space for a library was set aside and Trickett gave books from his personal library to the school.  Donations were also received from the school’s president, the Rev. Dr. George Reed, and from members of the school’s Board of Incorporators.  The school’s first foreign student, Issa Tanimura of Tokyo, Japan, Class of 1892, sponsored a fair “after the manner of those given in the Empire of Japan” that raised $450 for the purchase of library books.

The 1893 Microcosm reported that “[a] handsome library of some seven or eight hundred volumes graces the northern end of the recitation hall, and on the walls hang the pictures of Blackstone, Hamilton and Webster—an inspiration to the many students to emulate these great men.”  The library also served as a social center for the school.  David N. Feldman, Class of 1919, recalled that “the old library on the second floor [of Emory Hall] was well worn and at one spot near the window there was a hole several inches in circumference.  The tobacco chewers always fought for a comfortable spot near the window so they could try to hit the hole when they were ready to emit the tobacco juice from their mouths.”  

In 1918, the law library was moved to significantly larger quarters, a 54 by 60 foot room on the second floor of the law school’s new home, Trickett Hall.  The 1918-1919 Catalogue described the new location as follows:

The library of the school is well adapted to the needs of the student.  Already large—containing possibly 6000 volumes—it is yearly growing.  It is in a large, well-lighted and heated room, with ample table accommodations.  But very few lawyers in the State have ready access to so large and well selected a number of text-books and decisions....It is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day except Sunday.

Prior to World War II, law students ran the library under the supervision of a faculty member.  One of the their primary duties was persuading their classmates to reshelve their books; the January 1900 issue of The Forum stated that students who failed to do so were “ingrainedly selfish and inconsiderate” and deserved “no more consideration…than any other nuisance.”  The school began employing professional law librarians in the 1950’s; James R. Fox, the school’s longest serving law librarian, held the position of library director for almost 30 years.

By the 1950s the ever-growing collection and the increased student population had placed a severe strain on the library.  In 1961 Dean Morris Shaffer wrote that “faculty offices throughout Trickett Hall are filled with library books because there is no room elsewhere.”

In 1962, ground was broken for a new Library/Research Center.  The February 1962 Bill of Particulars reported that the new facility would “permit expansion and growth and provide for the new publications essential to a modern, progressive law school.”  The new building, which opened in 1963, increased the school’s law library capacity from 50,000 to 150,000 volumes.

The library’s size continued to increase, reaching 75,000 volumes by 1977.  That year construction began on a new Library/Advocacy Center designed to double library study and stack space.  Additional library space was gained with the opening of the Center for Advanced Legal Education in 1985.

The law library entered the electronic age in November 1978 when the first LEXIS terminal was installed.  A Westlaw terminal was installed the following year.

The 2000 merger of the Dickinson School of Law with the Pennsylvania State University opened new doors for the law library.  The library’s holdings were added to The CAT and law students and faculty gained access to the University’s databases and print collections.  In turn, the addition of Dickinson’s collection provided the University with a strong law library and it was the addition of the law library’s 393,473 volumes that moved the Penn State’s collection past the four million mark.