Visit to the Inns of Court Libraries

Planning the trip

Heather Barr, St Edmund’s Hall Graduate Library Trainee

Lucy showing us the shelves that house the 1800s collection
Lucy showing us the pre 1800s texts

One of the really great things about the Oxford Traineeship programme is that we get to spend time as a cohort training (and socialising!) together. It is wonderful to have a ready-made network of other early-career librarians, and to be able to learn from and share with each other. I know that I have felt exceptionally lucky to work alongside the other trainees, and I have really valued the chance to learn about the workings of different libraries across the university. So, when Abi Cass (Bibliographic Services Librarian, Gray’s Inn) was looking for visiting opportunities for the Graduate Trainees at Gray’s Inn, London, I was immediately keen to get in touch! Abi and I organised a tour-swap, giving the Inn trainees an opportunity to visit a variety of Oxford libraries and a group of Oxford trainees the opportunity to visit Gray’s Inn. In addition, Abi even negotiated the Oxford trainees a free lunch at Gray’s Inn, and visits to the Lincoln’s Inn and Middle Temple Libraries as well, which was extremely generous. Six of us made the trip to London, where we were hosted by Lucy Fletcher (Graduate Trainee, Gray’s Inn).

A personal highlight for me was Lucy’s excellent overview of the history and role of the Inns of Temple (of which Gray’s Inn is one of four). Historically, it was the Inns which provided legal education. Today, it is still only through membership at one of the Inns that you may train to become a Barrister, and they each provide teaching support, scholarships, and – of course – libraries of resources for their members.

A statue of Francis Bacon in front of the ivy covered facade of Gray's Inn Library
Francis Bacon in front of the library


Gray’s Inn Visit

Elizabeth Dawson, All Souls College Graduate Library Trainee

A view of the reading room from the first floor gallery
Overlooking the main reading room from the gallery

We were met by Lucy Fletcher, who started her traineeship in April, but nevertheless gave us a great tour of Gray’s Inn Library and an overview of how the Inns of Court work. There are four Inns of Court: Gray’s, Lincoln’s, Inner and Temple, each of which has its own legal library. Not coming from a law background, I was interested in how barristers and law student use the space, and how much they used those pesky law reports that I am always processing in the college library I work in! In academic libraries, we have seen a decline in use of physical law reports, in favour of online versions, but Lucy informed us that barristers still frequently use the physical copies. They need to submit the original page numbers of the reports to the court and online versions are not reliable – so many would prefer to photocopy the physical copies.

The blackened facade of the only building to survive the blitz, still located in the main square. Where Charles Dickens worked as a clerk.
The original building where Dickens worked as a clerk

I was struck with how similar the architecture of the Inn and the library is to Oxford colleges. Even their terms have the same name! Although, there have been law clerks on the site of Gray’s Inn since the 14th century, the library was rebuilt following heavy damage during the Blitz. As well as the main library, we also visited the stacks upstairs, where the less heavily used and some of the pre-1800 texts are kept. Dusty, secret areas of libraries are always exciting places to visit, and we were even lucky enough to glimpse the historical plans of the building.

Another thing I found surprising was how the Inns are used as venues for other events – not just for the lawyers. Historically, Gray’s Inn mounted masques and revels; William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors is believed first to have been performed in Gray’s Inn Hall. Ok, I admit I am an English Literature graduate and most of what I know of Gray’s Inn is from Dickens. Incidentally, one of the few surviving buildings in Gray’s Inn Square is where Dickens worked as a clerk!

Following the tour, we went to the hall for our lunch. Meatball marinara ciabatta and wedges – yum! It also gave us a chance to chat with Lucy about her traineeship at the library.



Lincoln’s Inn Visit

Juliet Brown – Old Bodleian Graduate Library Trainee

The building housing Lincoln's Inn Library, proceeded by a vibrant green lawn
The outside of the library building

Following our delicious lunch, Lucy helped guide us through London to Lincoln’s Inn, the second of our library visits that day. Lincoln’s Inn is the oldest Law Library in the country, and it was the only library on our tour to emerge unscathed from the Blitz, so looking around this building was like stepping into history.

After a brief introduction to the library and its collections, we were free to explore the space for ourselves, immersing ourselves in the collections and navigating the abundant staircases (one of which was hidden behind a thick velvet curtain)!

The main reading room in Lincoln's Inn Library, as seen from the second floor gallery
A view of the reading room from the second floor gallery

Lincoln’s Inn houses roughly 150,000 volumes, with a strong emphasis on English legal materials for practitioners and bar students alike – though the Library is also well known for its extensive Commonweath and Parliamentary collections. Interestingly, although the Inn libraries cater primarily to their own members, they tend to collaborate when it comes to specialist subjects. This prevents duplicate purchases of large collections and allows for the Inn’s to collect the widest range of material possible, to best support the varied research needs of their members.

Similarly to Gray’s Inn, the librarian spoke a little about the transition towards digital resources for initial research needs, though emphasised the continued necessity of physical collections for court submissions. I was most impressed with the extensive services provided by the library team, who offer an efficient document supply service, research support through their enquiry desk team, and a wide variety of training guides and courses for all members throughout the year.



Middle Temple Visit

Josie Fairley Keast, Bodleian Law Library Graduate Library Trainee

The third and final library we visited was the Middle Temple Library. (These mystical-sounding names come courtesy of the nearby Temple Church, in case you were wondering.)

An image of the specialisms of each Inn Library. A pdf document with the list can be found here:
© Gray’s Inn

As with the other Inns, the Middle Temple’s collections are wide-ranging, but their specialisms include ecclesiastical law and capital punishment. Our guide, assistant librarian Jake Hearn, told us a little more about how these topics and jurisdictions are divided among the libraries (see picture to the left for Inn specialisms). For the most part the libraries follow historic tradition, but a committee of librarians meet at regular intervals to discuss newer or changing topics. For example, although material on EU law was collected by all four libraries while the UK was still a member state, there is some discussion as to whether this will change in the wake of Brexit.

This was somehow the first library where I managed to take a closer look at the shelfmarks – as a current trainee at the Bodleian Law Library, I was excited to recognise some MOYS, a Library of Congress style system specifically designed for law collections. The Bodleian Law Library is currently halfway through reclassifying our Jurisprudence (legal philosophy) collection, and upon chatting to one of the library staff, I found that we shared similar sentiments on the triumphs and tribulations of the process.

Other interesting features of the library include the photographic record of UK Prime Ministers adorning the walls, the twin Elizabethan globes situated in the upper gallery (although, full disclosure, one of them was away on display in Liverpool when we visited), and the verdant colour scheme. Although we were asked not to share any photos of this library, I highly recommend looking it up – it’s truly fabulous.



Overall, our trip was a wonderful opportunity to explore a new area of librarianship, and we are extremely thankful to all of those who helped organise it, as well as those who gave their time to provide the tours and answer our many questions – we can only hope we were able to provide the same level of detail when we hosted Lucy and her colleagues Abi Reader (Graduate Trainee, Gray’s Inn) and Lily Rowe (Graduate Trainee, Inner Temple) in Oxford last month!

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