Select Page

Check those public law school libraries

It will come as no surprise to the readers of this blog that The Legal Genealogist is … well … um … a law geek.

And thinks that every genealogist should make reading the law, learning about the law, even loving the law, part of one’s daily research practices.

Now I get it … not everybody is as enthusiastic as I am. I don’t really understand why not, but…

Still, there are going to be times when we’re all going to need to dive in, deeply, to research a question in our family history that’s utterly dependent on the applicable law — and that law will be nowhere to be found online.


It’s not all online.


So… what to do? Where might we find the research materials, and maybe even get some help in using them?

Here’s a hint. Head over to the Public Law Schools page of the American Bar Association’s website.

Because the majority of public law schools are open to — ready for it? — the public.

That’s you and me, folks.

And that page lists 85 public law schools around the country starting with the University of Akron in Ohio and ending up with the University of Wyoming.

ABA public

Now I started looking at this for a presentation this Saturday to the Virginia Genealogical Society’s Spring Conference at the Four Points by Sheraton-Richmond Airport. (You are coming, right? registration info is here), so the first ones I looked at were Virginia’s three public law schools.

And right off the bat I was a bit disappointed. The very first one I checked was George Mason University’s Scalia Law School, and its Access Policy states — sigh — that “The Law Library is primarily maintained for the use of Scalia Law School students, faculty, staff, and alumni. The library is also open to George Mason University students, faculty, staff, and alumni… The library is not open to the public.” (That’s my emphasis.)

Fortunately, the others were much better:

• The Using the Library guide at the Law Library of the University of Virginia says: “The Law Library is open to the University community as well as the general public, except during weekends and exam periods.”

• At the Wolf Law Library of the William & Mary Law School, the answers to the Frequently Asked Questions make it clear that “Members of the general public are welcome to use library materials within the library.” In fact, residents of Williamsburg, James City County and York County can even get a library card at a whopping cost of a whole $5.00 that lets them check out circulating books.

So just how common is it for public law schools to be open to the public? I did a spot check of the others, and it’s clearly not 100%:

The Law Library at the University of Akron has no reference to public access on its website, which is a little frustrating since a search of its help system keeps turning up the phrase “Available on campus for the public” and linking to pages where the phrase doesn’t appear.

The Services page of the law library at the David A. Clarke School of Law, University of the District of Columbia, states: “The law library is open to the public. Please be advised that the law library is open during the times noted in the “Open to the Public” section under the Library Hours section…”

At the Law Library of Louisiana State University, the Visitor Services page states: “The law library welcomes alumni and visitors, including members of the bench, the bar, and the general public. … Visitors may use most of the law library’s collections onsite.”

• At Temple University’s Beasley School of Law in Pennsylvania, the Access Policy at the Temple Law Library state that “Temple Law Library is primarily for the use of Temple Law School faculty, students, staff and alumni.” As for others: “Only persons with valid identification in the following categories are permitted to enter the building to use the law library: Law faculty and law students from other law schools, attorneys with bar identification, students from colleges other than Temple with a letter of permission from Temple Law Library, and U.S. Depository Collection researchers following a reference interview with a professional library staff member.”

The Visitors Policies for the School of Law Library at North Carolina Central University in Durham provide that: “The Law Library is open to visitors during the School of Law’s Visitor Hours. … Guests not affiliated with the School of Law will be asked sign-in at the Security Desk.”

And the Public Services page of the Rutgers Law Library (I had to check that one — it’s my alma mater) says that, in addition to faculty and students, it’s open to “alumni, members of the Bar, and the public.”

The bottom line: While not all public law school law libraries are fully — or even partially — open to the public, the majority are available for our use. So we should always check out the closest one when we need to research the laws behind our family history.

After all, they really aren’t all online.


Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “blog post title,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted date).

Print Friendly, PDF & Email