Monday, August 15, 2011

Middle Temple Library, London

On July 27th, we visited a law library, the Middle Temple Library; the Middle Temple is one of the four Inns of Court, to which all law students, barristers, and bench members must be a part. The Inns of Court are Middle Temple, Gray's Inn, Lincoln's Inn, and Inner Temple. All those who wish to represent people in court are expected to join one of these Inns, who have the power to call their members to the English Bar, which allows them to practice the law as barristers. Solicitors, who give citizens legal advice, do not need to become members of the Inns of Court. We were shown around the library and given a brief introduction to the collections by Renae Satterley, Senior Librarian and Rare Books Librarian, and Bernadette Keeley, the Acquisitions Assistant.

The history of the Middle Temple Library begins with the founding of the Inns of Court as schools and housing for student barristers in the 13th century. The Middle Temple was the home to the Knights Templar (made popularly known by The Da Vinci Code books by Dan Brown) until the 14th century, when it was dissolved. The Middle Temple Library was known to have existed prior to 1540, but the library was re-founded in 1641, when Robert Ashley gave his own personal collection to the library after his death; this comprised almost four thousand volumes. The Robert Ashley collection was mostly non-legal materials, including books previously owned by famous figures, including John Donne, Ben Johnson, and John Dee. The topics covered in this collection are science, theology, exploration, geography, and others, and the books are in many different languages including German, Hebrew, French, Italian, and Latin. There are some very unique and obscure books in the collection, which are now the only known copies in the world. In Ashley's time, the Inns of Court were supposed to not only provide a legal education, but also to provide education in theology, philosophy, and the arts and sciences. The library has been kept in different places around Middle Temple, but the first building that was purposefully built to be a library was opened in 1861, which was destroyed in the Second World War by bombing. The present library building was designed by Sir Edward Maufe and was opened in 1958  by the Queen Mother.

The interior of the Middle Temple Library
Today, the collections include more than 250,000 books. The library is used mainly by English practitioners who need quick access to legal materials. The specialties that the Middle Temple collection covers are American law, EU law, the environment, data protection, and commercial law. The collections include both historical and modern government publications, law journals, ecclesiastical law (stemming from its members study of divinity in the 17th and 18th centuries), and other reference materials. The library also holds the only pair of Molyneux Globes in the world, created in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The globes are the first made in England, and the first to show accurate coastlines of the United States; the globes have been in the Middle Temple Library's possession since the 18th century. The library also holds the United States collection, which is one of the largest collections on American law outside of the United States. They also have Commonwealth collections, including New Zealand and Canadian reports. The library also has a capital punishment collection, which was donated by a judge in 2005, and which mainly covers the anti-death penalty perspective; members are able to check these books out for a short period of time. The library also has sizable human rights and EU law collections.  The library's rare book collection includes Ashley's collection and others dating back to the 13th century, which Ms. Satterley is attempting to promote within the academic community because many researchers outside Middle Temple don't know that it exists. The archives contain the administrative records for the Inn dating back to the 1500s.

The library provides many services for its members including reference services, and an easily searchable online catalog and many electronic databases, including Hein Online and Westlaw. The library also provides a document delivery service. Middle Temple also has computers available for use on the premises with word processing and Internet.  Seminar rooms have been built in the place of shelving for training of student barristers, ongoing professional development and law seminars; they've had to maximize their potential and re-appropriate some space within the library because of their financial situation--they have to remain relevant and provide more services other than traditional library services in order to ensure funding. Access to the library is restricted to Middle Temple members, but one can make appointments in order to use the rare books or archival collections.

The library was very beautiful and it provided so many resources to law students and practicing professionals. The librarians who showed us the library and the Great Hall for Middle Temple were very gracious and provided us with a lot of relevant information. I thought the library was beautiful and the way that the space was set up was very conducive to studying and research.

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