History of the Library
Overview of 8th Circuit Library History
by Ann Fessenden, Circuit Librarian
September, 2011

One-Person Operation, 1896-1970

It appears that the 8th Circuit had a librarian as early as 1896. The Judiciary Appropriation bill for that year includes:
For a messenger of the United States circuit court of appeals for the eighth judicial circuit, who shall also perform the duties of librarian and crier of said court, the sum of two thousand dollars as yearly compensation..., and said messenger shall be appointed by the judges of said circuit court of appeals to serve during the pleasure of the court. 29 Stat. 177 (1896).

Interestingly, the 8th circuit is the only one which received an appropriation that year for such a position. The other circuits received funding only for clerks of court. In 1948, Congress provided authority for all circuits to hire librarians.

The library throughout this period was a one-person operation. It undoubtedly was very small, serving only the Court of Appeals judges and perhaps the St. Louis district judges. The librarian filled several other roles, including messenger and court crier. The identity of the early librarians (prior to 1933) is unknown. The librarian from 1938-1964 was Allen Rothwell. Following Mr. Rothwell, the court had a series of night law students who served as librarian from 1965-1971.

Transition, 1971-1980

The Circuit hired its first professionally-trained librarian, Patricia Rodi (later Monk) in 1971. However it remained a one-person operation until 1976, when a clerical assistant was hired. An assistant librarian was added in 1979. Ms. Monk and her staff were able to accomplish significant improvements in the library and expansion of its services. The library became a federal document depository in 1972. The staff began using Library of Congress classification to organize the growing collection and developed a card catalog. They put book pockets and check-out cards in the books so records could be maintained of books borrowed. LEXIS was acquired in 1979 as part of a nationwide Judiciary contract. A law student was hired to manage the St. Paul library in 1978. A new branch library was built in Little Rock in 1980, and a professional librarian hired to operate it.

Evolution into a Multi-Library System, 1981-1990

Growth in the library and its staff during the 1980s paralleled that of the Judiciary as a whole. As the caseload and the number of judges and their staff increased, so did the library staff. The rapidly increasing body of law caused the number of published case reports and other law books to mushroom, rapidly expanding library collections.

Major changes began for the library in 1981 with the establishment of the U.S. Courts Library System. The Administrative Office established a Library Services Branch and hired a law librarian. As a result of her recommendations, a nationwide court library system was established beginning in 1981. This program consolidated all staffed libraries as branches under the circuit headquarters. (Some circuits, though not the 8th, previously had district court libraries.) Although the libraries remained statutorily under the Courts of Appeals, they were charged with serving the information needs of all Judiciary branch personnel. Therefore a major activity during this period was expanding library services to the widely-scattered district, magistrate and bankruptcy judges of the 8th Circuit.

The A.O. acquired funding from Congress to increase library staff and upgrade salaries, and educational and experience qualifications for library staff were established. The 8th Circuit library grew from two libraries and four positions in 1980 to seven libraries and seventeen positions by 1990. The expanding staff and collections lead to space problems in many locations. Library space was renovated and expanded in St. Louis and several other locations.

The expanded staff was able to offer new services, such as distribution of law review contents and news clippings. The library became responsible for preparing book purchase orders, though they still had to be issued by the A.O. The library's efforts greatly improved turnaround time for judges to acquire new books.

Technology was also changing rapidly. The computer assisted legal research program began with one terminal in St. Louis in 1979 and evolved to almost universal in-chambers access by 1990. The headquarters library acquired its first computer in 1985, and the branch libraries followed in 1990. Acquisition of fax machines in 1990 allowed for fast delivery of information to isolated chambers. The OCLC online bibliographic system was acquired in 1984 to automate cataloging. This enabled the staff to catalog the treatises in the headquarters and branch libraries and produce combined card catalogs for each location.

New Space, New Technology, and Increasing Administrative Responsibilities, 1991-2000

Library growth in staff and collections has continued up to the present, although availability of funding has limited the rate of staff growth. Nonetheless, the Judiciary was outgrowing its space, and embarked on major new building projects in the 1990s. A significant activity of library staff has been space planning, with libraries being planned for new courthouses in St. Louis and five of the eight branch locations. A major renovation/expansion was also completed in St. Paul.

As part of the overall Judiciary trend towards "decentralizing" financial responsibilities, the library became responsible for its personnel budget and for procurement of its own supplies, furniture, equipment and services. The Administrative Office gradually assigned more and more responsibility for law books procurement and upkeep to the libraries. The library now prepares purchase orders for new books which are transmitted electronically to the A.O. for issuance, and maintains inventories and subscription lists electronically. By the beginning of FY99, the A.O. will no longer handle law books, and the library will assume full responsibility for book ordering and subscription renewals for all chambers and court offices in the circuit.

The rapid changes in technology begun in the 1980s accelerated in the 1990s. A constant challenge for the library staff has been to learn about, evaluate, and educate court staff in the uses of new information formats, including CD-ROM, books on disk, and the Internet. Implementation of an integrated library system, which will automate the card catalog, book ordering, and other library functions, is planned for 1998.

Also during this period, usage of the libraries by pro se litigants has grown rapidly. This development has presented challenges to the library staff, as these new users are often untrained in legal research or court procedures.

Changing Roles – The Increasing Dominance of Electronic Research, 2001-2010

The first decade of the twenty-first century was a time of dramatic change for all libraries, and the 8th Circuit was no exception. Law clerks and judges increasingly demonstrated a strong preference for electronic research over books, resulting in decreased use of library physical facilities. In response to these changes, the library focused more on gathering information from users about how the library could help them in the future, and in using that information to develop long range plans. In 2004 it became the first appellate unit in the nation to utilize the Federal Judicial Center’s “futures conference” planning method, which involved representative judges, law clerks and others, along with library staff, in an intensive planning session. A second strategic plan was developed in 2010 after extensive surveys and interviews. That plan will be used to guide the library to 2015.

One of the results of the planning and user input was the realization that many judges and law clerks were unaware of services already being provided. Therefore, the library greatly increased its efforts to publicize its services to judges and court staff. A library logo was developed and used on all communications, and all library locations held events to both promote interaction among court staff and acquaint court staff with library services. Library publications were improved and expanded, including development of popular “READ” posters that featured judges, and a special publication and website designed for judicial assistants. The library’s role in archives, history and displays continued to increase, and the library produced many popular displays for Circuit Judicial Conferences, special events, and for circulation throughout the circuit.

The library also sought to reach its users more through their preferred medium - electronic information. The library newsletter was made electronic and issued via email, and the library began issuing email “alerts” about major cases and court news. The library’s internal intranet page and external Internet page were redesigned and expanded. The library began purchasing and managing circuit-wide electronic subscriptions and hired a digital services librarian. Librarians concentrated on increasing their electronic search skills and assisting researchers with learning to use the constantly-changes sources. Other significant events during this period included adding a staff member in Cedar Rapids. No space was available to build a library, so she operated out of a small office area pending future construction of a new courthouse.


Throughout its history, the 8th Circuit library has served as a resource for the Court of Appeals judges and their staffs. For many years it was a very small one-person operation. Its rapid expansion during the 1980s enabled it to extend its service to all federal judges in the seven states of the 8th Circuit. As the library moves into the next decade and a new century, it will continue this mission, continually seeking ways to contribute to the administration of justice by facilitating the work of the judges and their staffs.