Law School receives loan of Roman and canon law volumes

The rare book collection of the Lillian Goldman Law Library at Yale Law School has grown by approximately 1,300 volumes with the addition of an “indefinite loan” of valuable books on Roman and canon law from the library of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York.

The volumes, some of which date back to 1500 A.D. and are still bound in their original clasps, were moved from the Bar library to Yale last month, said Mike Widener, the rare book librarian at the Law Library. Although the New York City Bar will maintain ownership of the books, the Yale Law Library will house them for the foreseeable future, he said.

Widener said the acquisition of the volumes is important because of the wide-ranging effects Roman and canon law have had on shaping modern law in Europe and elsewhere.

“Roman law forms part of the basis for most legal systems of continental Europe,” he said. “Canon law … governed a number of issues that were important to ordinary people.”

The idea for the transfer of the books came from Blair Kauffman, a librarian and professor at the Law School, who is also on the board of advisors for the New York City Bar. He said he started developing the idea almost a decade ago, while on a tour of the Library of the Association of the Bar’s basement stacks.

“These materials were sitting there, being unused and not properly cared for,” he said.

Kauffman said he proposed the idea of moving the books from the bar association’s library to the Yale Law Library a few years ago, and while it was well received, it took time to receive official approval.

“Their librarian there thought that it was a great idea,” he said. “It took a long time just to get through the various bureaucracies.”

Frank Shapiro, the associate librarian for collections and access at the Law School, said he thinks the volumes will be far more useful at Yale than they were at the Bar library.

“The Association of the Bar is a library for practicing attorneys,” he said. “Rare books are not their priority. … It’s better for scholars to have these books here together with our existing holdings of rare books.”

The volumes, which were specially frozen in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library after their arrival at Yale as a precaution against insect damage, are currently in a secure location, Widener said. Shapiro said the Law School is considering building new facilities to house the collection, although there are currently no definite plans for construction.

The volumes are currently being catalogued, but should be available to the Yale community within a year, Kauffman said.

Students at the Law School had mixed reactions to news of the acquisition, which has not yet been widely publicized.

Jose Coleman LAW ’07 said he does not think the Law School gives enough attention to Roman and canon law, and that he hopes the acquisition will increase emphasis on the fields.

“I think the Law School should have more focus on those things,” he said. “I’m sure that [the books] will give renewed interest.”

Other students did not think the acquisition would affect them at all, and a few were against it.

Marin Levy LAW ’07 said she heard about the acquisition from a professor who was upset that space in the Law Library was being taken up to house old volumes as opposed to new ones that students would be more likely to use.

“It seems sort of nice to have this prestigious collection, but on the other hand this isn’t something that particularly affects the majority of student scholarship,” she said. “It’s not fair that the library should make this such a priority.”

Although he declined to specify the value of the collection for security reasons, Shapiro estimated that the volumes are worth between $100,000 and $1 million.

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