The Diamond Law Library and its Director, Jan. '07

A Snapshot of the Diamond Law Library and its Director, January, 2007

This snapshot was developed in response to a number of questions posed by Mary Lea Cox, Editorial Director of the Columbia Record. As published, the responses were quite compressed. Here is the full text.



NAME: Kent McKeever

POSITION: Director, Arthur W. Diamond Law Library

NUMBER OF YEARS IN THIS POSITION: Eleven years (started in position January 1996, started at Columbia August, 1982)


Begun in 1859 and located in Jerome L. Greene Hall, the Arthur W. Diamond Law Library provides access to a wide range of legal database services and now holds over one million volumes, including books, serials, and microforms. It is the second largest academic law library in the United States with a comprehensive collection of the primary materials in U.S. federal and state law, secondary materials on all aspects of domestic law, and historically deep collections in public and private international law, including documents of the League of Nations and the United Nations. The databases and paper volumes also cover the laws of numerous foreign countries and comparative law. The history of law is another particular strength, including strong collections of older English and European materials, Roman law and ancient law.

The Law Library adds 12,000 volumes on average to its collections each year.

The Law Library employs 44 professional, administrative, and support staff.

2210 items are checked out per month, but much of the collection is non-circulating


1) MOST RECENT acquisition: Witt, John Fabian, "Patriots and cosmopolitans: hidden histories of American law", 2007:

Prof. John Witt stuck his head in my door about an hour after I received this query and gave us a copy of his new book, "Patriots and Cosmopolitans". It is a collection of connected essays depicting the personal notions of citizenship of a number of Americans, ranging from one of the founding fathers, James Wilson, to Melvin Belli, the famous tort lawyer. In a time of intense debates about the role of America and Americans in the world, it is a subtle exploration of the cross currents of thought that underlie modern notions and policies.

2) MOST VALUABLE volume: Henry de Bracton (d. 1268) "De legibus et consuetudinibus Angliae" (Of the laws and customs of England), Latin manuscript on vellum, late 13th century.

The Diamond Law Library’s copy of Bracton’s treatise was purchased in 1932. The manuscript is written in double columns with rubrication in red, blue and green. It has several initials in gold and the occasional delightful bit of grafitti in the margins. Upon examing this manuscript, Professor G.E. Woodbine of Yale dated the hand to the last quarter of the thirteenth century. Comparing this copy of Bracton with other manuscripts he had examined, Woodbine grouped the Columbia Bracton with three others, one in the Bodleian Library, another in Pembroke College Cambridge, and the third at Yale University, on the grounds of general completeness.

Bracton’s treatise was the first attempt to present a comprehensive account of the early common law of England. With access to the plea rolls of the king’s court, Bracton was able to cite hundreds of decisions and to record the best practices of the court. His familiarity with Roman law as expressed in legal authorities from the continent does not prevent him from preferring English principles. About 50 manuscripts of Bracton survive, suggesting the popularity of this work within England’s emerging legal profession.

3) Best NYC-RELATED item: John Chambers (1710-1765) "Commonplace book", Manuscript, 365 p.

John Chambers was a prosperous and prominent New York City lawyer during the colonial period. His book of legal forms contains a variety of covenants, leases, and other documents which show how English law was practiced in this expanding commercial colony. Among the more interesting forms are the articles of agreement for the building of a ship. This volume contains a copy of the charter of the City of New York from George II, with reference to the city seal and boundaries of the seven wards. The work is in several different hands reflecting different clerks employed by Chambers. John Chambers owned many printed law books which he willed to his two nephews, Augustus Van Cortlandt and John Jay. This manuscript was a gift from Augustus Van Cortlandt.

4) PERSONAL FAVORITE: Manuel Garcia-Rendueles, "Constitution politica del Peru y comunidades nativas", 1983

When my job was to select the books for the collection, this was the first item I bought that I felt was outside the usual bounds of materials aimed at the professional and academic market. It was written to explain the Peruvian constitution to politically neglected indigenous peoples and combines a clear and simple text with comic book style illustrations. At the time, Peru was in a state of turmoil due to the "Shining Path" insurgents and this book tried to explain to an undereducated audience what their rights were and what the relatively recent (1979) constitution was meant to do for them.

5) Best ON-LINE PROJECT: The Music Plagiarism Project

Charles Cronin's website on music plagiarism, was initially produced by the Law Library, although it now resides in the CCNMTL server. It is an amazing presentation of music plagiarism lawsuits in the United States from 1845 on. Its strength is not just that Charles tracked down and obtained copies of the records of each case, but that he created audio files of the music involved so the user can hear versions of the pieces as well as read the related texts and scores. It is the first item presented by Google when you search the term "music plagiarism."


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