Subscribe for 33¢ / day
Law Library.jpg

Local writer and anthropologist Jane Anne Morris said she has done research at the Wisconsin State Law Library nearly every weekday for the past 16 years.

In the acknowledgments in her 2008 book, local writer and anthropologist Jane Anne Morris thanked everyone at the Wisconsin State Law Library, which she described as her home away from home since 1995.

They "patiently and unerringly guided me to sources I wouldn't have believed existed," she wrote in "Gaveling Down the Rabble: How 'Free Trade' Is Stealing Our Democracy."

Morris has come to the library every day for 16 years. It's had four different locations, but for the last 10 years its permanent home has been on the second and third floors of the Risser Justice Center, 120 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

"A law library is a very intimidating place for any normal human being. It's organized very differently," Morris said. "The law librarians over the years have basically helped me teach myself to use the law library. I can't say enough about how helpful they have been." 

The Wisconsin State Law Library has been helping lawyers and other citizens of this state for 175 years and Wednesday night it's celebrating its 175th anniversary with a private reception. 

Wisconsin became a state in 1848, but the library was established in 1836 when an act of Congress created the Territory of Wisconsin. The 16th and final section of that act appropriated funds for the Wisconsin State Library to support the needs of its fledgling government.

"That act of Congress included a $5,000 appropriation to buy books and set up a library," said Connie Von Der Heide, the library's director of reference and outreach services.

"At the time it was called the State Library," said library history buff Larry Nix, who is speaking Wednesday night along with historian Stuart Levitan. Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson is scheduled to make remarks and present the library with a plaque from the court.

"It was the first library established in the state of Wisconsin," Nix said, "so the 175th anniversary of the State Law Library is also the 175th anniversary of library service in the state of Wisconsin of any kind."

For all its history, the library is a modern space that features free computers with internet access and a variety of legal research tools. There is plenty of study space and lots of peace and quiet.

"It may on its face look like a quiet library, but it's actually pretty busy," said Von Der Heide, noting that the library gets between 40 and 50 calls a day from people looking for help.

With so many ways to find information online these days, callers are generally looking for answers to tough questions, she said.

"There is still a significant amount of legal research that has to be done in print," Von Der Heide said. "Hence the need for us to exist."