A look at the Cincinnati Law Library rules of 1874

Times, how they have changed. Recently, while preparing to shift materials in our Text Room, Library Director Lauren Morrison stumbled upon a copy of the library rules as written by W.S. Scarborough, Esq., Treasurer of the Cincinnati Law Library Association in 1874. By today’s standards, they’re fairly strict and include some rules like:

“No book shall be taken from the library except upon a written order signed by a member or a Judge, and solely for his own use.”

“No book shall be taken out of the Court House… without the authority of the Trustees.”

“Conversation in the library-rooms is forbidden.”

“Hats, coats and umbrellas must be placed in the coat-room.”

“[T]aking of depositions shall not be permitted in the library-rooms”

“All persons are forbidden…[t]o introduce into the library-rooms any person for business or consultation.”

The Constitution of the Law Library Association outlined the following. The membership fee for the Cincinnati Law Library was $10 ($204 in today’s money with inflation). Non-members were only allowed enter to the library with written permission from a Trustee. Membership was limited to only those attorneys who had been a member of the Bar for less than 5 years. Only the Trustees were allowed to hold meetings in the library rooms.

Today’s Law Library would be unrecognizable (and probably a little startling) to the Trustees of the 1870’s. Even if we disregard the technological advances like computers, air conditioning, modern plumbing and coffee machines, the original rules and constitution of the Law Library Association have almost universally been reversed.

Not only are books allowed to leave the Court House, we actually encourage it. Depositions are taken regularly in our meeting rooms and board room, either via teleconference or in person. Our members frequently utilize our meeting rooms to consult with clients, other attorneys, or their staff.  Attorneys meet every day in the subscriber lounge to discuss cases, debate a piece of law – sometimes a bit loudly - or seek advice. The general public are welcome in the library every day during regular business hours without even requiring written permission. What would the original Trustees think of us?

The only rule that still holds water is rule number seven.

“All persons are forbidden-

  1. To put their feet upon the shelving, furniture, or woodwork;
  2. To mark or fold the leaves of books;”

There are only eight rules – barely even two pieces of paper. The fact that one of those rules was given to “don’t put your feet on the shelves” and “don’t you dare dog-ear those pages”, is a testament to the never-ending battle that librarians fight against muddy shoes on freshly cleaned desks and notes written in the margins. In pen.

While many things have changed in the last 140 years, one thing at least has remained the same. The original object of the Cincinnati Law Library Association was “the improvement of its members [and] the cultivation of the Science of Law”. We at the Hamilton County Law Library make that our goal every day and we hope, with the help of both members and non-members alike, we succeed.

If you’d like to read the original Law Library Association Constitution and Rules of the Library-Rooms, it is available for perusal in our Text Room. Just ask one of our friendly librarians to help you find it! But don’t write notes in the margins. Or dog-ear the pages. We hate that.