Happy 50th Birthday, SLL!

June 8, 2021

Feature


Today is the State Law Library's 50th birthday! Formerly the library of the Texas Supreme Court, on June 8th, 1971, the State Law Library became an independent state agency. We have a long and storied history, and we're happy to share our past, present, and future with you! Here's to another 50 years!

History of the State Law Library

The library has existed in several different forms throughout Texas's history. In the early days of the Republic of Texas, legal sources were scarce and most legal books were in private collections not accessible to the public. When the Texas Supreme Court was founded in 1846, it did not have a law library or any reference books whatsoever until the Legislature agreed to provide funding for a substantial legal collection in the 1850s. The library became open to the public in 1866 and its three branches in Austin, Galveston, and Tyler flourished throughout the late 1800s. 

In 1892, the Legislature closed the Galveston and Tyler branches and consolidated the collection of the Supreme Court Library in Austin. Growth and usage of the library vastly outpaced funding and staffing over the next several decades, and the library was in a tremendous state of decline until Justice Pope sought to restore the library's usefulness in the 1960s. A thorough evaluation of the library's collection and staffing needs was completed by a panel of local librarians and the Legislature agreed to separate the library from the Supreme Court and increase the library's patron base to all Texans. Senate Bill 528 passed unanimously in 1971 and was signed into law by Governor John Connally, himself a former part-time employee at the Supreme Court Library.

You can find the session law for Senate Bill 528 from the 62nd Regular Session on the Legislative Reference Library's Legislative Archive System to read the text of the bill that created the library:

See. 2. The functions and duties now performed by the library of the Supreme Court under Article 1722, Revised Civil Statutes of Texas, 1925, are transferred to the State Law Library, which is established as an independent agency of the State.

Our Assistant Director Amy Small recently published an article detailing her research on the State Law Library's history in vol. 8, no. 4 in Summer 2019 of the Journal of the Texas Supreme Court Historical Society. You check out the article on our website for more details about the library's history.

When It Rains, It Pours

This past year has had an extraordinary number of challenges for the library. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March of 2020, the library was forced to close its doors to the public and operate remotely. Our librarians worked tirelessly to provide our patrons with legal information and resources remotely, and we added access to Westlaw (briefly) and Lexis Advance from home on a trial basis. We teamed up with the Harris County Robert W. Hainsworth Law Library to run a temporary chat program during the library's physical closure to help connect patrons directly to librarians.

Efforts to contain COVID-19 upended daily life and work for people all over the world, and the rapidly changing protocols for quarantine, isolation, and distancing caused a great deal of confusion. Our librarians set out to cut through this confusion by continuously tracking all the state and local orders, laws, and issues that the COVID-19 pandemic triggered with our COVID-19 & Texas Law research guide. We also answered a flood of questions Texans had about face masks, court closures, eviction suspensions, quarantine orders, disaster declarations, and much, much more. 

In early May of 2020, our agency and other state judicial agencies suffered a ransomware attack that took our website offline for several weeks. Our librarians built a temporary site during this period to help connect patrons with info on common questions and resources while we awaited the return of our website, and our original site is back up and running! We also introduced the library's blog the Spotlight during this time as a way to keep our patrons abreast of new developments in Texas law, answers to popular questions, and new resources at the library. If you're not already subscribed to our Spotlight updates, feel free to sign up!

During 2020's hectic and stressful election, we added information about Texas laws on voting, including absentee and mail-in voting, voter registration, and early voting options. We closed out the year with some of our highest site traffic ever!

On Valentine's Day weekend of February of 2021, what was anticipated to be a quick bout of harsh winter weather turned into a major power crisis across Texas, leaving over 5 million Texans without power for several days. A pipe burst on a different floor in our building which flooded several areas in the library. Fortunately, the building only suffered minor damage. Other Texans weren't so lucky, and many have experienced property damage and delayed repairs due to the storm. We've added a page to our Weather Emergencies research guide with information and resources for those recovering from the winter storm. 

Looking Ahead

As quarantine and closing restrictions were relaxed and vaccines became widely available, the State Law Library reopened our physical location to the public at the beginning of June of 2021. It's fitting that our reopening coincides with the library's 50th anniversary, and we're happy to be back in action providing you with legal information both in-person and remotely!

We've got a number of things in the works for the future, including the availability of new digital resources, a new reference via text program, and a redesign of the library's website! Keep checking the Library Spotlight for new announcements, and let us know if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions!

Thanks for 50 wonderful years, 

The Texas State Law Library 


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