Published on March 2, 2020 by Ed Craig, Reference Librarian
On March 1, Lucille Stewart Beeson Law Library celebrated its 25th Anniversary. It was on that day, 25 years ago, that the present library facility opened for student and faculty use.
To fully appreciate the magnitude of this milestone, one has to understand the conditions in which students and faculty studied in the previous location, Cordell Hull Law Library. The library was contained in Memory Leake Robinson Hall. Initially, the library public area consisted of only the current “Great Room” and the mezzanine above it. Later, two more reading rooms were added behind the mezzanine and “Great Room.” Unlike the current facility, there was very little natural lighting. Because computer technology had not developed to its current state, print resources were much more in demand by students and faculty, and as a result, study space was at a premium by a law student population that numbered over 600 in some academic years. The Lexis laboratory amounted to one computer terminal (about the size and shape of a small organ) in a room the size of a janitor’s closet. The Westlaw laboratory consisted of three-four stations in a room similar to the size of our current conference rooms used for student study. Lexis and Westlaw printing was quite primitive; the print quality was undesirable for researchers and, for many years, a button had to be pushed every time you wished to print a page (full document printing commands did not exist). As a result, students en masse saw the advantages of photocopying cases (at 10 cents per page). The hallway in front of the current Great Room held four photocopy machines when the Law Library was in its old location. Students would stand in line for their turn to use the machines, hoping the machines would not jam before they were finished copying.
This front hallway was also where all patrons of the Law Library were required to leave backpacks and brief cases, due to the lack of a book theft detection system at the library doors and the lack of space at tables and in aisles. Unlike our current facility with restrooms on every floor, Cordell Hull Law Library had no women’s restroom within its confines, though there was a small men’s room in the front hallway. Temperatures were predictable in the old facility – hot in the summertime, hot in the winter. Hard rains also provided challenges to the library staff; ceiling leaks would prompt employees to quickly cover some reporter stacks with plastic sheeting on a fairly regular basis.
Given the circumstances, it was quite understandable that the librarians were regularly confronted with questions from law students about when a new facility was to be built. As far as the library staff knew, there was little hope of a new library because there was no known money for such an enormous project. Fortunately, President Thomas Corts found the funding by approaching Mrs. Lucille Stewart Beeson with this tremendous need. Her generous gift to Samford University made it possible for the university to commence construction on a project that would take over a year to construct.
Once the project was made public, there was much anticipation by the Cumberland community, but also much work to be done. Dean Parham H. Williams, Jr. stated, “When it opens, this will be the best-equipped law library in the Southeast.”1 As soon as the gift was announced, the Law Library’s director, Laurel R. Clapp, and architects worked long hours to develop a functional plan that would meet the needs of the Cumberland community as well as create an ambience that students and faculty would appreciate. Carolyn Featheringill, a Cumberland law professor (retired), and Linda Jones, Acquisitions Librarian (retired), spent a great deal of time and energy providing guidance on choosing appropriate interior furnishing and carpeting.
During the year of construction, law school students and faculty would peer out the Second Floor east windows of the law school to watch the construction. Students gave advice on what they wanted in the new library. More specifically, they were very concerned about the type of study chairs to be purchased. Prior to the building project, Samford University Library had just completed a library addition with beautiful new furniture – unfortunately, the law students thought the new chairs were very uncomfortable and were determined to get that message across to this librarian (I was even approached in a shopping mall with this complaint). In order to purchase chairs that students would find comfortable, Ms. Clapp brought in a sampling of various chairs, lined them up, and asked law students to sit in them all and fill out a comfort survey. The survey findings led to our choice of the Bank of England chairs for the reading rooms and Windsor chairs for the conference rooms.
Toward the end of construction, preparations were made for the big move. Shelf-by-shelf plans were created to move the collection from the old facility to the new. After construction was complete, carpeting and shelving was installed. During the last week of February 1995, all Law Library staff, along with contracted library movers, vacuumed and moved the book collection in a five day period. During that time, a small basic collection of law reference materials was temporarily placed in a secured room in the basement of Samford University Library for law student and faculty use.
On the date of opening, many of the long reading room tables and chairs had not arrived; the middle of the First Floor reading room was a vast, open area covered in bright, natural sunlight that seemed quite remarkable to this librarian used to working in rather dim, close surroundings. Soon after opening, this First Floor open area was used in an information reception for visiting U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. On February 15, 1996, the facility was formally dedicated by former President Gerald R. Ford.
At the Beeson Law Library, many students have successfully studied to become lawyers in the past 25 years. It is the mission of its current staff to continue to maintain Cumberland’s library facility in a manner that will allow future law students and lawyers to enjoy its beauty as well.
1 Millam Saxon, Work on New Law School Library set to Be Finished Late Next Year, SAMFORD CRIMSON, October13, 1993, at 1.