Looking beyond the stacks: The law library as place

Traditionally, any discussion of the law library as place has begun—and more often than not ended—with the famous quotation from Christopher Columbus Langdell, former dean of the Harvard Law School, in which he analogized the role of the law library in the field of law to the role of a laboratory in the field of science. While certainly encouraging the now tired notion of learning to think like a lawyer, the problem with Langdell’s and much of the traditional treatment of the law library as place is the one-dimensional aspect that this approach creates. We are often left with the impression that the building is created solely for books and not for people. Lord Herbert Samuel summed up this traditional view of libraries in 1947 when he declared, “A library is thought in cold storage.”

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