Middle Temple Library

The Middle Temple Library building currently in use was built in the 1950s.  The original Victorian building was destroyed during the Blitz.  It is built from reinforced concrete in case of future bombings, which is good for holding the weight of the books but makes modifications difficult.  They converted the loft to create a rare book library with proper environmental control.  They do not have a classification system; the books are found by the number of the bay in which they are stored and then by alphabetical order.

The Middle Temple Library contains the collection on American law and was once one of the largest US law collections in the United Kingdom if not Europe.  The collection is largely comprised of donations made by government and law organizations in the United States after World War II.  Up until last year they were receiving all of the regional reporters, but cost and space issues kept them from continuing to collect these.  They do have subscriptions to West Law and another US law database, but the majority of requests are for printed materials because judges prefer it that way.  They also have a collection on capital punishment from 2005 that comprises a donated private library and other donations.  The US law collection is largely used by English practitioners and researchers who need quick access to the information.  Also, for areas in which the US is ahead of the UK in legal issues such as international corporate law, data protection and environmental law, the US collection is useful.

Like many libraries in the US and the UK, the Middle Temple Library is maximizing its potential and finding alternate uses for space to benefit its community.  They have converted some of the space on the third floor into teaching space, which also provides a quiet space for study.  This will bring more people into the library.  Also, they find that many people still do not know how to do research, particularly case law research.  There are four Inns of Court, and each has its own library with its own specializations so that among the four all fields of law are represented in one library or another.


I have never been to a devoted law library before, and it was particularly interesting to visit one with a strong United States legal collection.  It seems a useful division of resources to have the various Inns of Court libraries distribute areas within which to collect, and it demonstrates that every type of library faces the same types of difficulties with regard to resources, particularly financial.  The mention of sharing space on the third floor with educational facilities also demonstrated that all libraries are reconsidering how they interact with their communities and how best to bring users into the library in new contexts to encourage use and educate them in utilizing information sources and services.

I also found it fascinating to discover how many of the founding fathers of the United States had belonged to Middle Temple.  I have often read a great deal about the Inns of Court in literature since that is my background.  I found it wonderful to actually visit one of the Inns of Court and to see their library and great hall and have a reason to wander among the buildings the comprise the law offices and educational facilities.  The rare book collection seems to be a particular strength of the library, and it was startling to discover they had only had a rare book librarian since 2006 and that she had arrived to a collection kept in poor conditions.  It seems to be a similar story among the various libraries we have visited here, as well as among several I have heard of in the United States.  The globes were also amazing to see, particularly once their significance was explained to us.  I have always loved globes, and it was fascinating to see the matched set of the first globes ever created.

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