The United States Supreme Court building library and the Law Library of Congress are two of the most extensive law libraries in existence. Both of these law libraries are envied by legal scholars across the world, but legal libraries do not have to match either to be effective. Legal libraries allow judges, lawyers and any other persons practicing or studying law to correctly determine the state of the law. Research done in a legal library can be as simple as looking up a code law for a given jurisdiction or as difficult as attempting to determine the state of a law that will soon be ruled on by the Supreme Court.
Legal libraries, like the law itself, are a combination of the old and new. All pertinent laws in the jurisdiction in which a lawyer is practicing should be available in a quality legal library. Such a collection needs to cover even the oldest legal precedents in the legal system in case for example constitutional issues need to be researched. Federal and state documents may require coverage for example the U.S. Constitution and the local state constitution. Information should also be available on the changing precedent guiding important legal questions. Resources of this variety may include discussion of topics such as Constitutional freedoms of speech and religion or the efforts to regulate commerce in the Supreme Court under the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause. National law reviews and reports on freshly emerging laws and legal interpretations need to be present to show the current state of legal questions in the judiciary.
To build a foundation for any legal library the United States Reports, the U.S. Supreme Court reporter, is a good place to start. One or both of the unofficial Supreme Court reporters can provide a nice supplement to this. Official state reporters will help with more local issues. It is also useful to have some of the nation’s most prominent law reviews in any legal library, and a collection of legal dictionaries for reference.
Finally federal and state statutes and regulations, like the United States Code, are a necessity. Larger libraries may be interested in adding books that cover specific areas of law but a legal library, and the researcher who uses it, will be in good shape if all of these items are included.
Check out our Top Legal Publishers and Authors page for a list of the most sought-after legal books for a well-stocked law library. Also browse our lists of books recommended for a strong legal library, starting with Books for a Legal Library, Part 1.