Columbia Library columns (v.2(1952Nov-1953May))

(New York :  Friends of the Columbia Libraries.  )



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  v.2,no.3(1953:May): Page 26  

The Editor Visits the Law Library

UR visits to the Columbia Libraries always give us the
feeling of breaking through, not the sound-, but the
time-barrier. Some Libraries, like Columbiana and Spe¬
cial Collections, have carried us back to the past. The Medical
Library, in contact with the latest developments in laboratory and
clinic, lives urgently in the present. The Oral History Project, its
records sealed until the date set by the personages involved, is
dedicated to the historians of the future. But in the Law Library,
past, present and future are intermingled, and our current visit
will have to be described under each of these time-categories in

The veriest layman—even a simple medico like ourself—knows
that law looks to precedent and the past. Yet it was not until we
recently explored the stacks in Kent Hall with Harry Bitner,
Associate Law Librarian, that the meaning of this came alive for
us. Most libraries have publications in series running back into
past epochs, but usually a hundred years or so is a very respectable
run. In the Law Library stacks we found row after row of vellum-
bound books—annual case-reports—dating from the eighteenth,
seventeenth and sixteenth centuries, and some of them from much
earlier times. We took one down and found it to be a Yearbook
of the reign of Richard II. Granted that the book was not con¬
temporary with the case material, still its title page bore a date
three years earlier than that of the First Folio of Shakespeare. We
came on a paragraph about a husband and wife outlawed for debt
in 1388. The Court ordered the woman to be released from cus¬
tody, "because her husband had gone across the sea, and it would
be mischief to keep her in prison." Englishmen who crossed the
sea in 1388 probably did so to soldier with John of Gaunt in
Castile. Food for the imagination! Never again would we think of
all law books as dull and lifeless. In fact we learned that some are

  v.2,no.3(1953:May): Page 26