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In July 1817, the creation of the Law School was announced with the promise that students “will have access to the college library, and a complete Law Library, to be obtained for their use.” In September 1817, the Harvard Corporation allocated $500 to buy books for the Law School. Two students prepared the first Law Library catalog in 1826, reporting that the Library contained 763 titles, representing approximately 1752 volumes, some of which came from the College library.

In 1832, the Library was moved from Second College House to Dane Hall. Charles Sumner, who served as the student librarian from 1832-1834, prepared the second catalog, issued in 1834. At the time, the Library consisted of more than 3500 volumes and included 553 volumes of law reports purchased from Joseph Story in 1829 and an additional 507 volumes purchased from him in 1831.

By 1842, the Library had more the 6000 volumes. The Law School catalog for the second term of the 1842-1843 academical year described the library as having:

all the American Reports, and the Statutes of the United States, as well as those of all the States, a regular series of all the English Reports, including the Year-books, and also the English Statutes, as well as the principal treatises in American and English Law, besides a large collection of Scotch, French, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, and other Foreign Law, and a very ample collection of the best editions of the Roman or Civil Law, together with the works of the most celebrated commentators upon that Law.

Catalog for the second term of the 1842-1843 academical year

Dean Langdell

In 1870, Christopher Columbus Langdell was appointed first Dean of the Law School. Dean Langdell hired the Law School’s first full-time librarian, William Abbott Everett. Langdell discontinued the practice of providing students with individual textbooks and pushed for the thorough collecting of law reports.

In 1883, the Library was moved to a fireproof room in Austin Hall (now Ames Court Room). However, by 1891 Dean Langdell reported that the school had already outgrown Austin Hall and a new library building was needed. By the turn of the twentieth century, the Library was growing at the rate of over 6,000 volumes per year.

Growth of the Library

In 1907, what is now the south wing of Langdell Hall was mostly completed and open for use, including a seven-storied stack room to accommodate the Library’s growing collection. By 1910, Langdell Hall housed over 120,600 volumes and 13,390 pamphlets. In 1911, the Library acquired a 14,000-volume international law collection from Ramón de Dalmau, Marqués de Olivart. In 1929, the northern and western portions of Langdell Hall were completed, which included additional library stacks.

In 1960, the International Legal Studies Library was constructed with open-stacks; and the overall Library held nearly 1 million volumes.

In 1981, the Library went through a significant technological reorganization. It provided a standardized “machine-readable” catalog; expanded the microforms room; purchased “telefacsimile” machines; and acquired more than one LEXIS terminal (and add Westlaw). By 1988, the library had 1.45 million volumes.

From 1996 to 1997, the library underwent a major physical renovation. At this time, air conditioning was installed, elevators were added – as were women’s bathrooms (where there had only been one).


The Library remains the largest academic law library in the world and continues to reinvent itself to meet the needs of the law school.

In October 2019, the Library opened a new collaborative space for studying and learning on the north side of the main floor that includes seven new group study rooms and seminar rooms for Library events, training sessions, and classes.

The collection contains more than 2 million items (physical and digital) from 240 countries and territories in 170 languages serving the needs of researchers from Harvard and all over the world. Our expert staff of librarians, archivists, researchers, and technologists continue to drive the Library forward as we continue to reinvent library services to meet the evolving needs of the law school.