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ued use. Fundraising required a significant amount of time and the organization finished the year with no books and no space to house a library. The next year would prove more productive for the LLA board. On February 10, 1914, the LLA held its first recorded meeting with Judge Ashe serving as its first president. By March, the board made its first purchase of books, which included Texas and U.S. Supreme Court reporters, Texas statutes, and other primary source materials. The board paid $2,460 for the initial purchase—the equivalent of more than $58,000 today. By the first annual meeting held on April 10, 1915, the LLA had received permission from the Harris County Commissioners Court to use space on the fifth floor of the recentlybuilt Harris County Courthouse.4 By its September meeting, the board was sufficiently confident in the collection and furnishings to set a formal opening date for the Law Library of October 1, 1915.5 Early Expansion From its start, the Law Library’s audience began to grow. Before the formal opening, use of the Law Library was limited to dues-paying members. As a promotional effort, the board voted to invite “all white practicing attorneys of the Harris County Bar, not members of the Association, ...to enjoy all the privileges of the Library without charge during the month of October 1915.”6 Although constrained, the invitation was the first of many openings that would lead to all legal researchers being welcomed. By 1916, use of the collection was extended to all county judges and

court officers in exchange for a monthly fee of $100 from Harris County. The same privilege was extended to local law students after South Texas College of Law was established in 1923, and the Law Library remained the students’ primary source of legal materials for several years as the law school built a collection of its own.7 As its audience grew, the Law Library expanded its holdings and services. Much of the collection’s early growth can be credited to Judge James L. Autry. A donation and a bequest totaling $15,000 – more than $225,000 today – from Judge Autry allowed the early collection to grow from limited primary source materials into a working law library. The only request Judge Autry made was “that the library should ‘always be open to the free use of struggling young lawyers.’”8 The impact of this generosity can still be seen on many of the historic materials that bear a label with Judge Autry’s name. In addition to materials purchased with donated funds, many early shareholders of the LLA donated materials in lieu of cash payment for their stock. Through the diligent efforts of LLA board members, including Francis W. Nisbet, who served as secretary and was hired as the first librarian in 1915, the early Law Library grew quickly in service to its patrons.9 The Premier Law Library in the Southwestern United States In 1941, the Law Library transitioned from a private association to a public institution. The Harris County Commissioners Court, under the authority of a newly amended statute, approved a law library

filing fee and, in 1943, placed the Law Library under the control of the Houston Bar Association’s Law Library Committee.10 Long-time committee chair, William Kemper, expanded the collection to include more Texas practice materials,11 case reporters and statute books for jurisdictions throughout the country, and an extensive selection of topical treatises. New technologies were added in the late 1940s, including a telephone, Dictaphone, and Soundscriber. By the early 1950s, the collection expanded internationally with the addition of English and Canadian materials. As the materials became more complex, the need for specialized research assistance became apparent and, in 1951, the Committee hired Eugene Chambers— later, Judge Eugene Chambers of the 215th District Court—to direct operations, in part due to his legal background.12 At that time, Mr. Nisbet was “advanced in status to Librarian Emeritus.”13 In a little over a decade, the Law Library grew into one of the best county law libraries in the country and “the finest south of St. Louis.”14 Toward Service to All Under the law concerning Texas county law libraries, attorneys, judges, and litigants have been permitted to use the books and materials since the Law Library became a public institution.15 Nevertheless, for many years, African-American attorneys who entered the Law Library remained subject to segregation, which was prevalent in public buildings in downtown Houston well into the 1960s. In 1951, Robert W. Hainsworth, a graduate of Howard University School of Law and a practicing thehoustonlawyer.com

July/August 2015

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THL_JulAug15  

July/August 2015 issue of The Houston Lawyer magazine

THL_JulAug15  

July/August 2015 issue of The Houston Lawyer magazine