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A Visit to the Peace Palace Library

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The following is a guest post by Andrew Winston, a legal reference librarian with the Public Services Division of the Law Library of Congress.  Andrew has previously posted The Revised Statutes of the United States: Predecessor to the U.S. Code and An Interview with Gail Warren, Virginia State Law Librarian.

While on holiday in the Netherlands recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Peace Palace Library in The Hague. I arrived at the Peace Palace on a beautiful September morning via the preferred mode of travel in the Netherlands: the bicycle. Reference Librarian Sophie Brinkel met me at the library’s entrance and provided a fascinating and informative tour of the library and its services.

The Peace Palace Library is one of the world’s oldest, largest, and most prestigious law libraries. Located in the Academy and Library Building adjoining the Peace Palace, the library’s primary mission is to serve the International Court of Justice, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, and the Hague Academy of International Law, all located at the Peace Palace. The library also serves other international courts and tribunals based in The Hague, including the International Criminal Court, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal, as well as faculty and students from law schools in the Netherlands, and other scholars and students of international law.

The origins of the Peace Palace—and its library—lie in the First Hague Peace Conference of 1899, a meeting of 26 national delegations that resulted in the Hague Convention of 1899, which, among other things, established the Permanent Court of Arbitration. A building to house the Permanent Court of Arbitration, and an international law library to serve the court, was built between 1907 and 1913, funded primarily by a $1.5 million grant from the Carnegie Foundation, established by industrialist Andrew Carnegie. The Peace Palace and the Peace Palace Library opened in 1913 and the library was renovated in 2007. The Peace Palace Library currently has a staff of 27 law librarians and other library professionals, and is led by Library Director Jeroen Vervliet.

My tour began in the reading room of the Peace Palace Library, built during the library’s 2007 renovation. The reading room is housed in a stainless steel-and-glass bridge connecting the original Peace Palace building with the Academy and Library Building. In the reading room, researchers can find reference works on international law, as well as international law reviews and journals. Researchers can relax in a well-appointed lounge just outside the reading room with a comfortable couch and armchairs, coffee table, and that day’s issues of the Le Monde, Die Zeit, and Guardian newspapers. Across the hall from the lounge is the historical reading room, which now holds the library’s collection of constitutions, codes, and regulations of most of the countries of the world, and is often used for lectures and other special events.

The Peace Palace Library’s collection includes over one million volumes on public and private international law, foreign law, international relations, and diplomacy. Like the Law Library of Congress, most of the collection is housed in closed stacks. If a patron wishes to read a book that is not in the reading room, the book is retrieved from the stacks. The library catalogs the materials in its collection using the Catalogue de la bibliothèque du Palais de la paix, developed in 1916 by Elsa Oppenheim, along with keywords from a more modern classification system.

The Peace Palace Library boasts a wonderful rare books collection. Ms. Brinkel and her colleague Rens Steenhard, collection coordinator, provided a first-hand look at some of the library’s rare book treasures. The library holds the largest collection of the works of Hugh de Groot, also known as Hugo Grotius, in the world. Grotius, a Dutch jurist and scholar, is considered the father of international law. Two highlights (among many others) of the Grotius collection are:

  • The first print of the first edition of De Iure Belli ac Pacis (On the Law of War and Peace), printed in Paris in 1625. In this work, Grotius developed the idea of the “just war,” in an effort to provide a legal framework that would regulate and limit the use of warfare.
  • An original of Mare Liberum (The Free Sea), published in 1609. This book developed the idea of the “free sea” as international territory available for use by all nations for trade.
Mare Liberum by Hugo Grotius (1633 edition) / photography by Andrew Winston
Mare Liberum by Hugo Grotius (1633 edition) / photography by Andrew Winston

You can learn more about the Grotius collection at the Peace Palace Library by watching the video by Ingrid Kost, former conservator of the library.

The Peace Palace Library’s website offers a wealth of information about its collection, services, and programs, along with useful research tools for international law scholars and students. You can browse the website to learn about the library’s general collection, as well as the Grotius collection and other special collections. The website also includes numerous legal research guides on public and private international law topics, comparative law topics, and other subjects. By consulting the website, you can find out about the library’s lecture series, featuring presentations by experts on current international legal issues. You can monitor developments relevant to international law by consulting the “International law news” feed on any page on the website. You can also read posts by Peace Palace librarians about international law topics on the library’s blog.

If you are interested in conducting legal research at the Peace Palace Library, information about visiting the library is available here, as well as information about obtaining a library card.  To experience the library from where you are right now, you can take an online virtual tour with 360-degree navigable pictures of the reading room, the lounge, the historical reading room, and the exterior.

Peace Palace Library Closed Stacks / photograph by Andrew Winston
Peace Palace Library Closed Stacks / photograph by Andrew Winston

Comments (2)

  1. Would love to read some many book there… merci beaucoup for sharing..

  2. Enjoyed reading this, Andrew!

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