For a detailed history of the law libraries, download the online book:  200 Years of Free Legal Information: From County Law Libraries to Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries  pdf format of 200 Years of Free Legal Information
file size 13MB. This book traces the history of public law libraries in Massachusetts.

Origin: County Law Libraries

Prior to a major reorganization of the trial court system in 1978, the individual libraries functioned as county law libraries, established in the first half of the 19th century under a series of state enabling and funding statutes. They were organized and administered in the respective counties by associations of attorneys and funded by the counties to provide for the research needs of the bench and the bar. Pursuant to the early state statutes and association by-laws, inhabitants of the respective counties were to have the right of access and use.

Change: Court Reorganization

In 1978 the Massachusetts legislature, with the stated purpose of "promoting the orderly and effective administration of the judicial system of the Commonwealth," created a "Trial Court" to be administered by a "Chief Administrative Justice." Pursuant to Chapter 478 of the Acts of 1978:

  • there was to be an "administrative consolidation of the several courts of trial jurisdiction, so as to encourage a broader availability of personnel and other resources for the hearing of all causes on an equitable basis..."
  • all "costs of maintenance and operation of the judicial branch," including the former county law libraries, were to be paid by the Commonwealth
  • "all books, papers, equipment, furnishings...purchased by the counties or in the custody of or maintained primarily for the use of the juducial branch" were "declared to be the property of the Commonwealth, and...under the control of the judicial branch."

Formalization: Trial Court Law Libraries

Within the Office of the Chief Administrative Justice, a law library professional was hired to oversee the development of coordinated library services to the bench, bar, and the general public. This professional, the Law Library Coordinator, is part of the trial court management team and works with all other central departments, such as budget, personnel, data processing, and purchasing.

In 1983, Guidelines for the delivery of library services in the Trial Court were promulgated by the Office of the Chief Administrative Justice. Pursuant to these guidelines:

  • "The Office of the Chief Administrative Justice, in cooperation with the Chief Justices, Administrative Justices, and Presiding Justices has the authority and responsibility and should have the financial support to plan and coordinate law library service in the Trial Court."
  • "Planning or decisions that concern the law libraries" in the areas of personnel, physical facilities, bibliographic and physical control of the collection and its access, budget and hours were to "involve the law librarian(s) and/or law library coordinator..."
  • "As Trial Court employees, the law librarians" were to be "responsible to the Chief Administrative Justice directly to the law library coordinator."
  • "Efforts toward cooperative delivery of library service among libraries" was to be "encouraged," with the law library coordinator representing "the Office of the Chief Administrative Justice in such planning." "All formal cooperative arrangements were to be "approved by the Chief Administrative Justice."

On this foundation of history, statute and policy, the Trial Court Law Library System has been developed.

Today: Purpose and Philosophy

The mission of the Trial Court Law Library System is to provide timely, efficient access to current and historical law-related information in an impartial and respectful manner to anyone in need of legal information.

In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, access to justice is a constitutional right guaranteed by Article XI of the state constitution's "Declaration of Rights":

Every subject of the Commonwealth ought to find a certain remedy, by having recourse to the laws, for all injuries or wrongs which he may receive in his person, property, or character. He ought to obtain right and justice freely, and without being obligated to purchase it; completely, and without delay; conformably to the laws.

Access to justice, however, involves more than simple access to the courts and to the state's legal process. In our Anglo-American legal tradition, access to the courts must include access to the primary and secondary sources of law, that is to say, access to the executive orders, statutes, regulations, and judicial precedents, along with the array of digest, citators, indexes, loose-leaf services, treatises and supplements necessary to locate and make use of these primary sources.

Stated succinctly, access to justice without access to information is meaningless. The Trial Court Law Library system traces its mission back to the "Declaration of Rights" and stands as one of the bulwarks protecting the right of equal justice under law for the citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.