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Treasures from the Trunk

Heart of the Law School : Houston and Its Academic Law Libraries

by Christopher Anglim

This series now looks at the history of Houston's three academic law libraries ( South Texas College of Law, Texas Southern University, and the University of Houston), beginning with South Texas.

Part I: South Texas College Law Library

While the first classes of South Texas students largely relied on either the Harris County Law Library or their employers' library, a small law library was available at the school. By 1924, it had approximately 600 volumes. Developed largely through donations, the library essentially began with a gift of books from Judge Edgar E. Townes. Without funds to purchase materials, the school actively solicited donations. In 1927, the students raised money among themselves in order to buy needed books in what was praised as an example of "a real school spirit."By 1928, the collection could support legal research of many state issues. Under the honor system, every student had a key to the library and could study there at any time. Realizing that improving the library was crucial to the school's future, the Board of Directors created a permanent library committee. To further develop the library, the YMCA considered using some of the tuition for library uses in 1933. From 1946 to 1951, a library fee of 50 cents per each semester hour was imposed on each student. In September 1951, the library fee was abolished, but tuition increased by $2.00.

During the post-World War II era, the college faced both the challenges of meeting ABA standards in order to continue operations and competition from the University of Houston Law School. While ABA accreditation includes standards on the quality of the library, the college’s efforts to improve the library were constrained by its ties to the YMCA and the YMCA's financial limitations. Even by the 1950s, the collection could support only limited legal research. Throughout the decade, however, the library grew significantly as the college moved towards ABA accreditation. The library had two rooms -- one housed stacks and a reading area and the other housed another reading area. The library still relied heavily on book donations. Both the Student Bar Association and the Ex-Student's Association actively solicited for book donations and sponsored "donation drives". .

The library lacked a professional librarian for several years and the collection grew without proper planning or cataloging. In 1952, John H. Rodell became librarian for both the YMCA's junior college library and law school library, while also serving as the college bursar. He cataloged the law library, rearranged the law treatises, and weeded the collection. From 1958-1959, Richard Ducote served as librarian for both libraries. From 1959 to 1961, Garland Walker was the law librarian, which represented two advances: 1) the college now complied with the standard that the law school should control its own library and 2) that the librarian was law-trained, and therefore, would understand legal research. Georgia Ann Miers, then a recent South Texas graduate, served as librarian from 1961 to 1965. The library's future growth along with that of the college, depended largely on finding larger quarters. The library, along with the college moved to its present location (then called the Neal Building) in 1964. Mrs. Miers, supervised the move of the collection. At first, the library occupied only a large room in a part of the first floor. The college disassociated from the YMCA in 1967.

In the two decades following the move, the library gradually grew to a truly academic library. After Miers left to practice law in 1965, the college was without a full-time librarian until Frances H. Thompson was hired in 1966. She would be the only librarian for the next seven years. The collection at the time had only 18,000 books. During her early tenure, Mrs. Thompson struggled to comply with ABA library standards. The library, however, began to greatly expand. As various law school departments moved into newly available space due to successive expansions, the library grew into the vacated space in the Neal building. Space was a chronic problem with a great increase in legal publishing and the receipt of major donations. In 1974, the library was renovated and expanded in the Neal building (now renamed the Cullen building). The collection's growth again outgrew its space. Until the construction of the "Tower" in 1984, the library was essentially crammed into the back half of the Cullen building.

South Texas' historical emphasis on practical rather than academic-oriented instruction, was reflected in the library's collection. It had been inadequately supported while the college was under the YMCA control and had minimal funds in the period immediately following disassociation. From 1975 to 1986, the collection grew substantially as Mrs. Thompson and Dean Walker sought to remedy its deficiencies. For several years, the South Texas Law Library had a very small staff. Growth in the college, the collection, an increased number of users, the continuing effort to comply with ABA Standards, and increasing complexity in the information environment led to a need to hire more employees. Mrs. Thompson, in meeting these needs, hired a solid technology- and public service-oriented staff.

Advanced technology began being implemented during Mrs. Thompson's tenure. WESTLAW was introduced in 1981 at South Texas and then LEXIS in 1986. The library's cataloging was converted to OCLC from 1982 to 1984 and went online in 1983. Audiovisual media plays a crucial role in the new information environment. The college's Audio -Visual (AV) Department, which begun in 1986, quickly developed to serve a wide-range of audiovisual needs, and is now a full-fledged multimedia center.

Ann Puckett, formerly an acting co-director of the law library at Northwestern University, became library director at South Texas in August 1987. She was attracted by the library’s potential including a strong staff and financial, faculty and administrative support. Professor Puckett greatly increased library staffing. She found, however, that the library's size and layout were inadequate. She was able to increase library space through one small renovation, which also brought two large rooms within the library’s control and placed library offices in a more rational order. From 1991-1992, the library underwent an extensive renovation, which expanded to the third floor and converted much of the space in the older part of the Cullen building to library uses. After that time, no further library expansion was possible. A computer technology wing was created on the first floor, which included a new computer classroom. The renovation also created the Jesse H. Jones reading room for the library's Special Collections. Professor Puckett implemented library automation, including the Innovative Interfaces systems for acquisitions and serials, which began service in 1989 and initiated planning for an On-line Public Access Catalog (OPAC). Having an expansive view of public service, Professor Puckett improved library service and communications with library users (particularly faculty and students) and increased responsiveness to their needs.

Professor Puckett, who left South Texas in July 1994 to become director of the University of Georgia Law Library, was succeeded by Professor David Cowan, formerly the library director at Baylor University School of Law. He is pursuing plans to transform the library into 21st century research facility. In 1995, funding for the OPAC was approved and the system went up in January 1996. In order to increase space for users, accomodate a reasonable expansion of the collection, and accommodate increasing use of technology, Professor Cowan is currently pursuing a major library expansion and the establishment of a campus network, accessible from remote sites electronically.

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