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Learning About the Supreme Court Library

Judith Gaskell, Librarian of the Supreme Court of the United States, who will be retiring soon, was our guest and presenter at a recent Law Library of Congress Power Lunch.  She discussed the history of the Supreme Court Library, the history of the Office of the Librarian of the Supreme Court, and her role as Librarian of the Supreme Court.

2 Stat. 786 (1812)

The relationship between the Supreme Court and the Law Library of Congress goes back to 1812, when the Justices were allowed to use the law section of the Library of Congress by statute (2 Stat. 786). Prior to that, the Supreme Court did not have a library and the Justices used their personal libraries. In 1832, the Law Library of Congress itself was created within the Library of Congress. The Court was allowed to use the Library’s holdings and the Justices allowed to guide acquisitions. The Supreme Court was built in 1935 and housed its own library, though there is still a relationship between the Court and the Law Library of Congress.

"Supreme Service: The Court of the United States Library." 15 Trends L. Libr. Mgmt. & Tech. 4 (2004).

Ms. Gaskell also discussed some of her personal history and how she came to be the Librarian of the Supreme Court. She is the tenth Librarian in the history of the Supreme Court. While previous Librarians have focused on the collection, Ms. Gaskell focused on service, as she outlined in Supreme Service: The Supreme Court of the United States Library, an article she wrote for Trends in Law Library Management and Technology in 2004 (15 Trends L. Libr. Mgmt. & Tech. 4).

The main mission of the Supreme Court Library is to assist the Justices, which means primarily working directly with their law clerks. There are currently 39 law clerks, four per active Justice and one per retired Justice. The research the librarians do ranges from ready reference to comparative and in-depth analysis over months or years.

All in all, it was a fascinating and rewarding way to spend lunch!

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