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180th Anniversary of the Law Library of Congress

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The following is a guest post by Donna Sokol, Special Assistant to the Law Librarian of Congress.  This post is a follow-up piece to Friday’s Pic of the Week.

Happy Birthday to us!  On July 14, 1832, Congress passed an act that brought the Law Library into existence.  To celebrate our 180th anniversary, we saluted the three pillars of our organization – the collections, the expertise, and the staff – in a series of events on July 11.


We kicked off the anniversary events with a showcase of some of the treasures from our collections.  The presenter, Professor Emily Kadens of the University of Texas School of Law, is a Kluge Scholar with the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress.   She is using the Law Library’s collections to trace custom as law in the writings of medieval jurists.

Professor Kadens chronicled over two thousand years of the development of law, focusing on how Roman law supplanted customary law in some areas of Europe from the 14th through the 16th centuries.  Using fifteen items from the Law Library’s rare books collections and one from the Rare Books and Special Collections Division, Professor Kadens offered us a perspective on the rediscovery and reimplementation of Roman law during Medieval times.

“Lawyers and books go together, and therefore the history of law can be told through the history of law books,” Professor Kadens said. Around 1070 A.D., the resurfacing of a 6th Century manuscript digest – the most complete digest manuscript ever discovered – led to the influence of Roman law on other legal systems in Europe… and led almost immediately to the rebirth of lawyer jokes.

One of the items on display for Professor Kadens’ presentation. Codex. Nuremberg: Anthony Koberger, 1488. Photo credit: Kevin Long.


The next event showcased two of the Law Library’s staff as they recapped their recent visits to three post-Soviet states.  The staff were invited to study the respective legislatures and their supporting legal information resources.  The Law Library’s instruction/reference librarian, Pam Craig, spent two weeks in Russia, giving lectures about the Law Library’s collections and service to Congress.  Pam met with Russian law librarians and learned about the Russian legislature, the Duma.

Peter Roudik, the director of the Law Library’s Global Legal Research Directorate, traveled to Ukraine and Georgia in two separate trips.  In Ukraine, he visited the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament) and witnessed a proxy vote.  In Georgia, Peter learned about the reforms taking place in that country, including the restructuring and retraining of law enforcement.

Both Pam and Peter returned with a deeper understanding of the legal structures and legal information resources of the respective countries.


The third part of our celebration focused on the people who make it possible for the Law Library to function on a daily basis.  The “ice cream social” brought together the almost 100 staff of the Law Library for a sweet treat.  In addition to ice cream and sorbet, we had a chocolate replica of the U.S. Capitol Building, where the Law Library got its start.

The chocolate replica of the U.S. Capitol. Photo Credit: Kevin Long.
The Stacks Services team poses with Law Librarian David Mao (fourth from right) in front of the Senate bill that established the Law Library. Photo credit: Kevin Long.

Those of you who are in the DC metropolitan area can hear Professor Kadens’ lecture, “The Continuing Problem of Custom: From the Medieval Jurists to the Supreme Court,” on Thursday, July 19, at 12 noon in the Pickford Theater (3rd Floor, Madison Building).  The event is free and open to the public.

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