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American Women: Resources from the Law Library

Using the Law Library of Congress

Andrew Weber. LM242 Entrance to Law Library Reading Room. September 2015. In Custodia Legis, blog of the Law Library of Congress.

The Law Library of Congress contains the largest body of United States federal and state law, foreign law, international law, and comparative law and legislation in the world. The breadth and depth of the Law Library's collections are extraordinary. Federal and state laws and court decisions from the colonial period to the present shed light on U.S. history. Laws of Massachusetts that date from the late seventeenth century and Virginia Court Reports dating from the early eighteenth century are available both in printed editions, housed with the Law Library's Rare Book Collection, and in microform.

Besides these primary source materials, legal treatises—for instance, Blackstone's Commentaries—form a strong component of the Law Library collections. Many early editions of common law treatises—from which numerous modern laws are derived—are among the holdings, as are legislative histories. For example, a collection of bound federal bills dating back to the 16th Congress is available for consultation. Through all these varieties of resources, the Law Library of Congress presents a wealth of legal information to support the study of women's issues.

Using the legal collections of the Law Library requires an understanding of legal resources and basic legal methodology, as well as some knowledge of specific tools for research. The section on Legal Research Methodology provides a brief overview of legal research. The Searching the Online Catalog section explains the classification of legal materials and provides some canned searches by relevant Library of Congress subject headings. By examining in greater detail one of the types of sources described in the Legal Research Methodology section, the Pathfinder: Using Legal Encyclopedias section provides a case study that leads the reader through the process of searching various legal encyclopedias for information on antenuptial agreements between men and women concerning their minor children.

Carol M. Highsmith, photographer. [Main Reading Room. View from above showing researcher desks. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C.] 2007. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The primary function of the Library of Congress is to serve the U.S. Congress. In addition, the Library provides service to government agencies, other libraries, scholars, and the general public. The Library welcomes public use of its general reference facilities and endeavors to offer the widest possible use of its collections consistent with their preservation and with its obligation to serve the Congress and other government agencies.

Anyone with a free Reader Identification Card can request books and other materials for use in the Library's research centers (go to the "Reader Identification Card" tab for more information). The links below provide important information for researchers to review prior to visiting the Library of Congress.

To reach a reference librarian for assistance and direct support, go to the "Ask a Librarian" tab on this page. It includes a video tutorial about the service.

Carol Highsmith, photographer. [Main Reading Room. Interior of dome. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C.] 2007. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The Library's collections are the largest in the world and represent a wide variety of physical formats and languages. Library of Congress staff are able to help you identify and request materials in twenty-one general and specialized reading rooms. Anyone 16 years or older can come in to use the Library (go to the "Reader Identification Card" tab for more information).

General Collections

Books, pamphlets, journals, newspapers and other serial publications. More about the General Collections

International Collections

More than 470 languages are represented in the Library's global collections. More about the International Collections

Special Format Collections

Photographs, maps, music, sound, film, manuscripts, and other media. More about the Special Format Collections

Law Library of Congress, 101 Independence Avenue, SE, Washington, DC 20540-3000
James Madison Memorial Building, 2nd floor, Room LM-242 <View map>
Telephone: (202) 707-5080
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. | Closed Sunday and federal holidays.
Access: To use any Library of Congress reading room, you must show a Library-issued reader identification card.

Law Library Reading Room: In the open bookstacks of the Law Library Reading Room, federal laws, current state laws, administrative materials, and treatises are immediately accessible to the public. Most of the law collections, however, are located in closed bookstack areas that are not open to readers. These materials must be requested via the Library of Congress catalog, and you should allow at least forty-five minutes for their retrieval. To request materials, you will need a valid Library of Congress reader identification card. Professional legal reference specialists are available to help you. In addition, the Law Library's staff of foreign-trained lawyers is available on a limited basis to respond to public reference questions concerning foreign laws, administrative regulations, and court decisions.


Law Library Rare Book Collections: To use the Law Library Rare Book Collections, you will need to follow security procedures. First make an appointment with the Rare Books Curator to identify the material you need. Subject catalogs and other bibliographical guides will help you identify desired items as Law Library materials. If the Rare Books Curator determines that no alternate sources are available, you may complete a registration form and be given access to the rare book materials.

Users of the Library's research areas, including Computer Catalog Centers, and Copyright Office public service areas are each required to have a Reader Identification Card issued by the Library. Cards are free and can be obtained by completing a registration process and presenting a valid driver's license, state-issued identification card, or passport. Researchers must be 16 and above years of age at time of registration.  The following link provides more information on how and where to register and the video tutorial walks you through the process:

Video Tutorial - Registering for a Reader Identification Card

The Ask a Librarian service provides an easy way to get research assistance online directly from Library of Congress reference librarians.  Use the link below to ask a question, and the video tutorial below provides a quick overview of the service.

Video Tutorial - Ask a Librarian at the Library of Congress