Strictly Legal: How a Nineteenth Century Bookseller Influenced the Collection of a Supreme Court Library in Surprising Ways

By Sue Reynolds.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic Free Download

In 1853, the Library of the Supreme Court of Victoria (in Melbourne, Australia) was founded with the brief that it would provide the “primary necessities … for reference and research in law”. By 1875, the intention of the library had broadened to include items aimed at providing a “course of liberal and enlightened training” for legal practitioners. Books were purchased from London according to the specifications of the library committee’s bibliophilic chairman, a Supreme Court judge, but even allowing that a more comprehensive collection to inform the practise of law in the colony might be useful, some of the items supplied to the library are surprising. This paper will consider whether items which appear to be completely discordant with the collection statement, and without even a tenuous connection to the law discernible, were acquired purposively or were thrust upon the library as sharp practice, taking advantage of a far removed colonial institution. Nineteenth century bookselling and publishing practices will be considered and also the intellectual value of items acquired to 21st century readers and researchers.

Keywords: Bookselling, Law Library, Nineteenth Century, Book Collections

The International Journal of the Book, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp.65-75. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 396.389KB).

Dr. Sue Reynolds

Senior Lecturer in Information Management, School of Business IT and Logistics, RMIT University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Sue Reynolds is a lecturer in information management at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. She has been a library and information studies educator for 30 years. Her principal research and teaching interests are the history of libraries and the history of information organisation, and their place in the wider social and cultural context. In 2011 she was the winner of the American Library Association Phyllis Dain Library History Dissertation Award for her doctoral thesis on the history of the Library of the Supreme Court of Victoria. She is currently co-convening a conference in Melbourne, Australia for December 2012 based around intersecting narratives in the history of education, mechanics institutes, and libraries.


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