Supreme Court Library tour

If you’re looking for a library where you feel  surrounded by history, then visit the Supreme Court Library.  Beginning in 1837 with $150 funding from the Government, the library was first housed in the now Magistrate’s Court.  The current library building at the Supreme Court was built in 1959 and contains over 100,000 books.  Over two stories, the library is full of towering stacks of law reports, journals, textbooks, acts of parliament, statutes and other historical and current material. The stacks are so tall that each has its own old-fashioned wooden ladder to enable access to the top shelves.

The Courts Administration Authority Library service is responsible for developing and maintaining libraries that serve the Supreme Court, District Court, Magistrates Courts, Youth Court and Environment, Resources and Development Court. These libraries are located throughout South Australia including suburban and regional locations. Many judges also have their own collections, increasing the spread of the library’s resources.

While the library provides some computers, our tour guide Lisa Capps explained that changing the mindset of judicial staff has provided some challenges. The library is currently exploring ebooks and ipads as a way of providing access to law resources, especially for judges on circuit to country areas such as Port Augusta. Not only would mobile devices provide access to a vast array of resources at the user’s fingertips, but prove less to carry when travelling.

The library is open to the public and although not a lending library, receives a number of international requests for research or information which is provided by scanning or photocopying.  Judicial staff are permitted to remove items from the library for citing in court, but must return them immediately after use. The library must also maintain previous editions of various works for users to refer back to, as required.  

After our look around the main floor of the library, taking in Sir Samuel Way’s original writing desk as we went, we headed downstairs to where the journal collection and staff workrooms are located. Here numbered shelves assist users in finding the way to the journal they require. Locked cabinets also display the rare book collection as well as other historical items including library stamps.  The collection includes a number of items published in the early 1600s.

The library not only provides a modern library service, but also an archival element. We move into one of the meeting rooms where the Historical Librarian has set out a display for us. The library houses some amazing items including judges’ notebooks, wigs, furniture and other historical documents. Lisa shows us the earliest transcript of a case in South Australia from 1837, a death warrant, and some items of Dame Roma Mitchell’s, the first female judge of the Supreme Court.

Some of the issues the library faces are familiar to most library workers: getting people into the library, raising awareness of the service, and marketing the resources. Staff are not required to have legal knowledge to work in the library, but it is certainly a bonus as a lot of older legislation is not available online. Staff are not legally qualified to interpret the law, only steer people to the right information, which presents a few issues when assisting students.

The tour of the Supreme Court Library was a fascinating insight into a world steeped in history and tradition but facing the demands of modern life. The building is full of nooks and crannies (even a dumb waiter) and the large study desks and antique chairs and cabinets lend it an air of grandness that emphasises this is where important work is done. Thanks to Lisa Capps and the staff of the Courts Administration Authority Library Service for hosting tours for SALIN members.

Kelly Frazer

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