Library as Lab

HLS 200

Library as Lab


The work done in the Library is what the scientific men call original investigation. The Library is to us what a laboratory is to the chemist or the physicist, and what the museum is to the naturalist.

Christopher Columbus Langdell (1826-1906), 1873-1874
First Dean, Harvard Law School, 1870-1895

“Library as Lab” was a powerful metaphor in Dean Langdell’s day, and it remains so today. Explore how this metaphor has changed over time.

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If Langdell thought of the library as a laboratory, then legal opinions were the specimens to be examined, dissected, and analyzed by young legal scientists.

Langdell created the first casebook in 1870. A compilation of excerpts of contracts cases, it gave his students ready access to selected cases that would illustrate legal principles in context. Students in turn treated their casebooks and class notes as lab notebooks – jotting citations, summaries, maxims, and observations in margins and interleaved sheets of paper.

Today, the idea of Library as Lab is as powerful as ever, and a spirit of experimentation and innovation can be found throughout the Harvard Law School Library.

Created in 2009, the Library Innovation Lab (LIL) at the HLS Library builds software and develops ideas designed to make libraries as valued in the digital world as they have been in the analog world. LIL is one of the few library labs in existence and the only one housed within a law library. Its projects are open source and benefit a wide range of libraries and the communities they serve.

Casebooks and Student Notebooks Past and Present

Here are a few examples of materials written by well-known Harvard Law School community members who have studied and taught the subject of Torts. Torts has been a staple of the first-year law curriculum since the nineteenth century.


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Return Awesome Stuff Here!

From 2013-2016, Awesome Box enabled  library users in more than 500 libraries around the country share the books they love!

Library Innovation in the Twenty-first Century

The traditional role of libraries has changed during the twenty-first century in order to keep up with rapid developments in technology. Here are some innovative projects that exemplify the Harvard Law School Library’s commitment to provide expanded access to its collections and information for everyone in the digital age.