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An Interview with Jennifer Frazier, the Kentucky State Law Librarian

I recently visited the Kentucky State Law Library in Frankfort, Kentucky, and interviewed Jennifer Frazier, the Kentucky State Law Librarian.

Thank you for taking time to speak with me today. How long have you been the State Law Librarian, and what is your educational background?

I have been employed at the Kentucky State Law Library since 2003, and was promoted to the position of State Law Librarian in 2006. In terms of my educational background, I have a J.D. from the University of Louisville and an M.L.S.  from the University of Kentucky.

The Kentucky State Capitol Building.

The Kentucky State Capitol Building.

Is this Kentucky’s second capitol building?

No, it is actually the fourth. Two burned, and what is now known as the old capitol building was completed in 1830. The current capitol, referred to as the new capitol, was authorized in 1904 and its official completion date was 1910.

 Did the old capitol building have a law library?

Yes, it was housed in two rooms and is still intact.

What do you know about your predecessors?

The State Library and the State Law Library were originally one. The State Librarian was a position that was elected by the state legislature, and they actually selected quite a few women for the position. Most of these women were daughters and nieces of prominent people. A bill was introduced to require the State Librarian to be a man, but it was defeated. George A. Robertson was the first State Librarian. Robertson was a nephew of George Robertson, a Kentucky Court of Appeals Judge and U.S. Congressman. Richard Harlan, the brother of Justice John Marshall Harlan, was also a Kentucky State Librarian.  After the Civil War, many Confederate veterans and relatives of Confederate veterans were selected as Librarian. In 1936, the government was restructured, and as part of this effort, a separate law library division was created within the State Library. The first Law Librarian was Frank Kavanaugh, who had passed the bar, but was not a practicing lawyer. In 1955, Lt. General Field Harris was selected as State Law Librarian. His appointment was significant, because he was required to have a law degree. In 1976, Kentucky selected its first dual-degreed State Law Librarian, Wesley Gilmer, and due to a government restructuring,  the Law Library became part of the Administrative Office of the Courts

[ To learn more about the history of the Kentucky State Law Library, please see Jennifer Frazier, The History of the Kentucky State Law Library, 77 Ky. Libraries 12 (Spring 2013).]

The Kentucky State Law Library. Note the shelves and catwalks. The shelves, original to the library, have a convincing mohogany finish, but they are actually made of steel. The flooring on the catwalks consists of glass panels.

The Kentucky State Law Library. Note the shelves and catwalks. The shelves, original to the library, have a convincing mahogany finish, but they are actually made of steel. The flooring on the catwalks consist of glass panels.

I know you serve many different types of patrons. How does it break down on a rough percentage basis?  

About 70 percent of the calls and emails are from the judiciary. Ten percent of the requests come from the public, and 20 percent originate from other state agencies.

It looks like there is a place on the top of the Capitol’s dome where a person could stand. Have you ever been to the top of the Kentucky Capitol Building’s dome?

The dome is actually comprised of two domes. It has a spiral staircase that leads to the top of the inner dome. You then open a large metal door, and ascend several, almost vertical, rungs to climb to the top of the cupola.

Do you work closely with the Kentucky Supreme Court?

The clerks are frequently in the library to retrieve materials in advance of oral arguments.

Have you received any memorable questions that you may discuss?

I once received a call from a Judge where a defendant in a drug case had filed a motion to either have the contraband that had been seized in the case returned to him or destroyed. This was a problem because some of the contraband that had been seized was cash and obviously it would violate federal law to destroy the cash. Kentucky did have a statute authorizing the destruction of contraband, but it turned out there was another statute that treated the cash differently.

Do you have any advice for aspiring law librarians in terms of the courses they should take?

Enroll in classes that teach you how to create, manage, and navigate digital libraries, but you should also take classes that teach you how to preserve books. A great deal of material is not digital. Books are not going away anytime soon, and it is going to be necessary to know how to preserve them.

Do you have a rare books collection?

Hughes' Reports. These are Kentucky's first case reports, containing reports of cases from 1785-1801. Many of these early cases concern disputes over land.

Hughes’ Reports. These are Kentucky’s first case reports, containing reports of cases from 1785-1801. Many of these early cases concern disputes over land.

Yes, and much of the collection is Kentucky-specific. Willard Jillson, a historian and geologist, donated his collection to the library. He also authored a book called “Rare Books in Kentucky” that we use when we are planning acquisitions. We have the Kentucky House Journals from 1798. This volume is significant because it contains the resolution written in response to the Alien and Sedition Acts.

[Ms. Frazier showed me several other items, which you see pictured above]

Does Kentucky have any wacky laws?

Frankfort used to have an ordinance that said you could not carry an ice cream cone in your back pocket. Though it seems strange, the ordinance served an important purpose. It was intended to prevent a horse thief from luring away a horse. You will also find that many wacky law books mention a woman cannot walk down a highway in a swimsuit without carrying a club. This was actually a Kentucky state law. The law was gender-neutral, and required the person in the swimsuit to either have a club or a police escort. It was repealed during the 1974 update to the penal code.

The Laws of Virginia up to 1768. This is a 1783 reprint. This book was owned by Thomas Todd, the Secretary of the 1792 Kentucky State Constitutional Convention. In addition to Todd's signature, it contains the doodles pictured here. Ms. Frazier believes these may have been drawn by Todd during 1792 Constitutional Convention.

The Laws of Virginia up to 1768. This is a 1783 reprint. This book was owned by Thomas Todd, the Secretary of the Kentucky State Constitutional Convention and the first U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice from the State of Kentucky. In addition to Todd’s signature, it contains the doodles pictured here. Ms. Frazier believes these may have been drawn by Todd during the Kentucky Constitutional Convention.

 

One Comment

  1. Georgia Chadwick
    March 18, 2014 at 8:54 pm

    What a treasure to have the Ky House Journals from 1798. Have you considered digitizing them? Also, I enjoyed reading about your library. Hope to see you at AALL this summer. Georgia Chadwick, Law Library of Louisiana

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