Good Legislation mural in Main Reading Room Lobby by Elihu Vedder

The Law Library of Congress was established in 1832 as a department of the Library of Congress.  Today, the Law Library of Congress is not only the largest law collection in the world, with 2.65 million volumes, it is also an institution serving Congress and the public with unparalleled research and reference services, and extensive electronic services such as the Global Legal Information Network and the Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation digitization project.  This timeline highlights some of the milestones of this development.

The Law Library at 175: A Timeline (1800-2007) (PDF, 175 Kb)

1800

Act of April 24 appropriates $5,000 to establish Library of Congress

1801

First books and maps of Library placed in office of Secretary of Senate

1802

Act of January 26 provides for placement of Library in Capitol and appointment of First Librarian of Congress, John J. Beckley

1805

Act of January 2 provides that 300 copies of laws of United States and journals of Congress shall be placed in Library

1812

Justices of Supreme Court authorized to use Library

1814

British burn U.S. Capitol, destroying Library, including 174 law titles; Thomas Jefferson offers to sell personal library, including 475 law titles, to replace destroyed collection

1815

Act of January 30 approves purchase of Jefferson’s library

1816

Senator Robert Goodloe Harper calls for separate law library   

1832

Act of July 14 creates separate “Law Department” of Library of Congress, establishing Law Library of Congress
Law Library moves into separate room in Capitol Building adjacent to Main Library

1833

Charles Henry Wharton Meehan appointed as “assistant at law,” becoming first Law Librarian of Congress

1839

First separate catalog of law books printed

1842

Law Library moved to the Capitol Building’s ground floor across from the Supreme Court Chamber

1848

Following U.S.-Mexican War, library authorized to purchase all constitutions and laws of Mexico

1851

Second fire in Capitol destroys two-thirds of books of Library of Congress; law collection is unscathed

1860

Supreme Court moves to former Senate Chamber; Law Library moves to former Supreme Court Chamber

1870

Act of July 8 centralizes all U.S. copyright registration and deposit activities at Library of Congress

1872

Charles Henry Wharton Meehan dies; Charles W. Hoffman appointed as second Law Librarian of Congress

1880

House of Representatives grants Law Librarian floor privileges

1884

Senate grants Law Librarian floor privileges

1888

Act of July 11 provides that Law Library must be kept open whenever either chamber of Congress is in session

1897

Thomas Jefferson Building opens to house the Library of Congress; Law Library remains in Capitol Building

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1907

On 75th Anniversary, Law Library mounts exhibition with American Association of Law Libraries

1908

Publication of “Index Analysis of the Federal Statutes,” by George Winfield Scott (Fifth Law Librarian) and Middleton Goldsmith Beaman (Sixth Law Librarian)

1911

Dr. Edwin Montefiore Borchard, international law expert, appointed Law Librarian

1914

Legislative Reference Service (LRS), predecessor to Congressional Research Service, established under direction of Law Librarian

1917

Main site of law collection established in Northeast Pavilion of Jefferson Building, while Law Library remains in Capitol

1921

Directorship of LRS becomes separate position

Law Library becomes responsible for Congressional requests for foreign law research, while LRS becomes responsible for American law and public policy Congressional requests

1924

John T. Vance, scholar and diplomat, becomes Law Librarian, helps establish Law Library as foreign law research center

1932

At Law Library’s centennial, American Bar Association forms Committee on the Facilities of the Law Library of Congress

George Wickersham founds Friends of the Law Library

1935

Supreme Court Building opens; official administrative ties between Law Library and Supreme Court end  

1941

Law Library Reading Room opens in Jefferson Building

1940s

Foreign law divisions established

1950s

Hispanic Law Division begins compiling Hispanic Law Index

1961

Index to Latin American Legislation published

1960s

KF cataloging schedule for American law developed

1967

Library begins assigning Class KF call numbers to American law publications

1973

Law Librarian Carleton W. Kenyon establishes publication series to make research for Congress available to public

1981

Law Library moves into Madison Building

1989

World Law Bulletin launched to provide Congress overview of foreign law developments

1991

Global Legal Information Network (GLIN) established to share laws of member nations

1993

Law Library begins providing foreign legal research to Immigration and Naturalization Service

1994

Rubens Medina appointed Law Librarian of Congress

1995

GLIN goes online

1996

GLIN debuts on Library of Congress website; National Aeronautics and Space Administration provides satellite technology assistance to GLIN partner countries

1998

Groundbreaking digitization project, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1873,” released on website

2007

Law Library celebrates 175th anniversary; collection grows to 2.6 million items

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Last Updated: 02/28/2014