The Schaffer Law Library

The Schaffer Law Library


Founders of the law school envisioned an educational institution that would train lawyers and, in the process, benefit the legal profession and the larger community. They created a foundation for the school with all the ingredients of success. Integral to that success has always been access to a good library.

When the law school opened in 1851 in rented third-floor space of Albany Young Men's Association Exchange Building, it boasted access to the that group's reading room and extensive library. The young men's association, a secular prototype of the Young Men's Christian Association and possibly the first of its kind in the young country, was borne of the lyceum movement in America.

From the beginning the young men's association library contained books on law. The entire collection, covering a wide range of subjects, grew to more than 10,000 volumes during the 1850s. This library served the nascent law school well until enrollment increases forced several moves during first decade.

The growing holdings of its library at each stop in its early transient existence may have served as foundation, but law school students typically had to consult other libraries. Mingling with jurists, private attorneys and state legislators, law school students frequented the stacks at the New York State Library, which at the time was called "the best selected, if not the most extensive, law library in the United States," according to Albany Law literature of 1852.

Access to such a comprehensive selection of law books in public and private collections at the state library was a major asset through the first century of the law school.

The original New Scotland Avenue building, completed in 1929, included a library and the 28,000-volume collection was transported from law school's previous downtown home. The library was housed on the fourth floor of the current campus' original building.

To help cope with the enrollment explosion following World War II, a reference room was added to the library and book lift installed.

In the late 1940s, the first full-time librarian was hired. Today, the law school's library numbers about 15 librarians and technicians, each with an area of expertise. By the mid-1970s and overburdened by an enrollment approaching 750 students on a campus originally designed for 250, the condition of the library was considered a poster child for capital improvements.

A 1977 report cited significant gaps in the collection, insufficient space for books and students, the stress of volumes' weight and inadequate seating, lighting and acoustics for quiet study. New books and furnishings were acquired and redistributed to lessen weight stress, the library painted and carpeted and staff added.

The most difficult and expensive issue of space was not addressed: It wouldn't be until after the six-year, $12-million Campaign for Albany Law School initiated by Dean Richard J. Bartlett in the early 1980s that long-standing library issues would be resolved.

About a half of the fundraising campaign money was earmarked for a new library. A larger facility was overdue; lack of shelf space had forced about a fourth of the library's collections into storage; and law students frustrated with crowded conditions frequently walked across the street to the Albany Medical College library.

The Harry M. Schaffer Foundation provided the first major gift, $300,000, toward the construction of a separate state-of-the-art facility. In 1981, Schaffer, a 1921 Albany Law graduate, had given a substantial donation in support of stop-gap measures at the old library.

Ground was broken for the new Schaffer Law Library in May 1985. Designed by the Albany architectural firm of Mendel, Mesick, Cohen, Waite, and Hall and built by L.A. Swyer Co., the 53,000-square-foot building more than tripled library space.

It was fully wired for electronic equipment and was accessible to the disabled and spacious enough for collection growth. The library has soundproof room for small-group study and presentations. Among the library's special collections is a video archive of nearly 20 years' worth of oral arguments before the New York Court of Appeals.

The book and microfilm collections of the library number more than 600,000 volumes and equivalents. The library computer lab provides access to the Internet and online legal research systems such as LEXIS-NEXIS, WESTLAW and DIALOG. The library offers computer rooms, group study rooms, a videotape viewing room and seating for 488 users.

The Schaffer Law Library maintains both U.S. and New York State document depository collections. The library became a U.S. depository in 1979 and collects materials in the areas of law and public policy, with emphasis on materials from the Justice Department, the Judiciary and the Congress. In 1989, the library was designated a research depository library for New York State materials.

The library is a member of the New England Law Library Consortium. This consortium of 85 members shares resources, collaborates on collection building and includes access to some of the best catalogues, including Harvard and Yale.

Opened in the summer of 1986, the new library was one of the most modern in the nation at the time. In 1983, the old library had ranked 123rd of 173 law libraries nationwide in total collection size. By 1999, the Schaffer Law Library ranked 27th in bound volumes and microform volume equivalents.

Introduction of an online catalogue in 1994 and the expansion of access to the Internet-based services later in the 1990s made the library as full automated as those of competing law schools. The decades-old and, by then, obsolete card catalogue system of indexing material was eliminated in 2006.

In 2009, the law school started drawing geothermal energy from 40 wells reaching 400 feet underneath the campus ground to heat and cool the library. The project serves as a centerpiece to use environmentally-friendly and fiscally-smart practices at the school.

In the latter half of the 20th century, the school's library has been transformed from a liability of the law school to one of its best assets. The facility has helped lay the foundation for initiatives of increased faculty scholarship and raising student performance. And the Schaffer Law Library is poised for growth and change in the 21st century.