Middle Temple Law Library

Tuesday June 20

After a bit of a bumpy start to our morning, we trekked off to the Middle Temple Law Library to meet with Renee. Before we went in she told us a little bit about the law profession in England. There are two types of lawyers, solicitors and barristers. Solicitors are the more common function lawyers, and barristers are the lawyers who participate in court trials. Middle Temple is one of the 4 Inns of Court, who as a whole are responsible for calling law students to the Bar. After being called, the student must then attend Bar school and pick an Inn. Becoming a Barrister sounds very challenging, with lots of hoops to jump through, and only 20-30% make pupilage, or get chambers. The others are employed by other entities, like the government or private companies.

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The first Renee showed us was the Hall. It’s used everyday as a lunch venue for members of the Temple, as well as an entertainment venue and a hall for lectures. It was even home to the first performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The hall was built in 1570, and is mostly still original, however all the stained glass windows are all original. The hall was slightly damaged during the Blitz in WWII, but was easily repaired with some glue.

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Renee then showed us a “bench apartment”, which was just off the back of the hall. This particular one was the Parliament of the Inn, which is exactly what it sounds like. Before that it was the original library for the Inn, and was quite small. In the mid 19th century a new one was built, but was badly damaged in the war and was torn down and in 1958 the existing library was built. Each Inn has royal Benchers (basically honorary board members) and the current royal for Middle Temple is Prince William. Previous royals included the Queen Mother and Princess Diana. My royal-loving heart swooned at that! There was a gorgeous painting of the Queen Mother in the next bench apartment we saw, named the Princess room in honor of the queen mum and Diana.

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The library itself began in 1641, and like most libraries of the time was a gentleman’s library before it’s focus was law. The library is 4 floors, with 2 levels of basement storage. Most of the books in the stacks are law related, the others from the beginning of the library’s history are in storage because they are now so old and considered rare books. Nothing is discarded, definitely not the legal materials because English law, like American law, is based on precedent. All 4 Inns communicate to avoid duplication, and all focus on different areas of the law for their collection development. Middle Temple focuses on American and European Union law.

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Before Renee took over her position the official title was “Keeper of the Library” and she still has the sign on her office door to prove it! It’s since been changed to Librarian, but it was a cool title. If I recall correctly many academic libraries in the UK still use the Keeper title to denote seniority and to keep with tradition. For example, a senior archivist would be the Keeper of the Archives.

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Ellen came along today!

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