A Cascading Staircase Leads the Way to the Largest Law Library in Ohio

One afternoon in January, I was hit with a question: What are some ways to track federal legislation? I shared a handful of options, then decided to confer with a knowledgeable source to make sure I had presented all of the possibilities. 

The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law Calling my reference desk of choice led to more than a thorough answer. Besides being invited to give a presentation on processing archival collections to the Columbus Bar Association’s Legal Research and Information Resources Committee in April, I made some new friends who work as reference librarians at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law’s Michael E. Moritz Law Library.  After traveling at a snail’s pace through Downtown gridlock caused by an exploding transformer and throngs of Arnold Sports Festival-goers last Friday, I emerged victorious from the #2 North High Street COTA bus and took a tour of their nifty workplace.

Founded in 1891, The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law is consistently ranked as the top law school in the state. Approximately 570 students receive their legal training from more than 50 faculty members in a building at the corner of North High Street and West Twelfth Avenue in Columbus. 

Situated at the southeast entrance to the Ohio State campus, the original brick-and-limestone-faced building was constructed in 1958. In 1992, a $16.5 million building renovation and expansion was completed. A 95,000-square-foot addition nearly doubled the building’s size, with about two-thirds of it devoted to the law school’s library. Bohm-NBBJ of Columbus and Gunnar Birkerts and Associates of Birmingham, Michigan designed the addition to reflect the law school’s important status as the first campus building seen by those coming from Downtown. 

Latvian-born Gunnar Birkerts is a Modernist architect who spent four years working for Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen. He designed the Corning Museum of Glass; the United States Embassy office building in Caracas, Venezuela; Domino’s Pizza corporate headquarters in Ann Arbor, Michigan; and the National Library of Latvia, among others. His law school-related work includes the University of Michigan law library addition, the University of Iowa law building and the Duke University law building addition. 

In “College of Law Addition/Renovation, The Ohio State University,” a March 1995 Architecture + Urbanism journal article, Birkerts described how the original campus development plans designed by Olmstead Brothers in 1905 and Charles St. John Chubb in 1910 placed the important buildings at the major entrances to campus. The most prominent buildings surround the Oval, the lawn that Buckeyes recognize as the geographic and symbolic center of campus. To maintain the building’s important image, Birkerts designed a curved exterior wall to guide visitors toward the Oval, and an arcade to invite them to take a detour and experience his creation. 

The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law Birkerts framed the new public entrance on the north side of the building with pairs of limestone columns. The façade is like a long porch, ending at the northwest corner of the building with a staircase housed in a long, narrow glass enclosure. Lit from within after dark, it becomes like a lantern pointing to the center of campus, Sven Birkerts and Martin Schwarts observed in their book, Gunnar Birkerts: Metaphoric Modernist. 

Birkerts’ years in Latvia taught him how important daylight is, and how to use it well. As a result, he employs different strategies to bring light into rooms from various directions. The walls of the addition have wide rusticated masonry bands and lots of windows, arranged in what Birkerts described as a basket weave pattern. 

 

Student lounge, The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law

Light is also an essential element of the law library. Existing and new spaces meet at a skylighted stairwell. White-painted walls and pale wood veneer paneling throughout the interior further reflect the light. 

Birkerts achieved compatibility between the old building and the new by linking them with a cascading staircase. Its spreading stairs lead visitors from the ground floor entrance and communal spaces to the classrooms and the law library. 

Staircase, The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law

The law library was formed in December 1891 when the widow of the Honorable Henry C. Noble of Circleville donated his library to the newly established law school at Ohio State. It was renamed the Michael E. Moritz Law Library in 1998, after distinguished College of Law alumnus Michael E. Moritz, and has become the largest library in the state. The Ohio State community, together with attorneys, judges and citizens, are welcome to use the collection. 

The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law’s Michael E. Moritz Law LibraryA space in the library’s reading room honors Ervin H. Pollack, a lawyer-turned-librarian who directed the library from 1947 until his death in 1972. In addition to devoting a great deal of effort to solving the challenges of cataloging law-related books, Pollack taught legal bibliography and legal writing, jurisprudence, and legal regulation of business practices. He also authored several scholarly publications, most notably Fundamentals of Legal Research.

Pollack acquired many volumes in the library’s rare book collection.  Of the 2,500 rare volumes in the collection, Jurisconsultorum Vitae (1538) — a biographical dictionary of Roman jurists, written in Latin — is one of the oldest imprints. Others include a 1680 reprint of the first edition of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan and The Roycroft Press’s 1899 edition of lawyer Clarence Darrow’s first book, A Persian Pearl. For more on the library’s rare book collection, see “Storied Treasures: Law Library’s Collection of Rare Books, Artifacts Number in the Thousands,” from the Summer 2013 issue of All Rise, the law school’s magazine. 

If you can’t visit the library in person and see its striking home for yourself, you can benefit from how it fulfills its mission of supporting scholarship and instruction in the law by reading the Moritz Legal Information Blog.  Posts cleverly tie current events and issues with legal information resources available at the library.

DSCN4689For example, Puppy Bowl fans learned about books covering careers in animal law. Those following the dispute over heiress Huguette Clark’s estate, previewed in Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune, by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr., discovered essential library resources on estate planning, alternative dispute resolution, mediation and negotiation. Students looking for innovative ways to improve their writing received a list of well-written novels recommended by legal writing professors. And new books like The Little Book of Elvis Law, by Cecil C. Kuhne III, part of the American Bar Association’s “Little Books of Law” series, offer a possibility for law students puzzling over an employment path.

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