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Guidelines for Use of Special Collections

Law Library Director

Scott Pagel

Jacob Burns Law Library
716 20th Street
Washington, DC 20052
Phone: 202-994-7337



Special Collections at the Burns Law Library preserves more than 35,000 important legal works from the fifteenth through nineteenth centuries. Its French Collection is one of the largest assemblages of early French law in the United States. The Incunabula Collection comprises more than 150 law-related titles. Other significant areas of the collection include church-state relations, Roman and canon law, international law, and early American statutes and practitioner guides.

Additional information regarding the collection is available from the Special Collections Department

Scheduling and Registration

Researchers wishing to use materials from Special Collections should contact either the Law Library Director or the Assistant Director for Public Services, who will arrange for access to the materials. It is best to make arrangements in advance for use of the collections to ensure ready availability.  All researchers will register with and show Photo ID upon arrival at the law library.

Hours of Operation:

Materials in Special Collections are available for use Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. except during University and Law School holidays. Requests for materials must be received by 4:30pm.

Securing Your Belongings: 

Only looseleaf paper, pencils, loupes, laptop computers, and cell phones are allowed in the Rare Books Room. Digital camera use is permitted on a case-by-case basis. 

Using Special Collections

Rare materials may be used only in specified locations. Either the Law Library Director or the Assistant Director for Public Services will retrieve the books or archival materials sought by the researcher.

The researcher may work with a maximum of two books at a time, and in certain cases, depending upon the material, the researcher may be permitted to work with only one book at a time. If using archival materials, the researcher may work with one box only at a time. Archival documents must be maintained in their arranged order. If you find that archival documents are out of order, do not refile them, but alert a librarian who will examine the box and refile the documents.

Looseleaf paper, pencils, loupes, laptop computers, and cell phones are the only items permitted in the Rare Books Room. Digital camera use must be approved by the Library Director.

Food and drink are not permitted when using Special Collections materials.

Handling Rare Items

Researchers must follow all Library instructions regarding  handling rare materials. Many are unique or fragile. Please note carefully the following:

  • Researchers are asked to handle rare materials with the utmost care, and must use any book support, such as a cradle, as instructed by the Library. In most cases, rare books should not be laid flat on the study table, but should be placed in a cradle for support. Books may not be placed in the lap or in any other position off the table and cradle. Do not lean on any book.
  • Researchers should handle pages by their edges to avoid bending or soiling, and may be requested to wear cotton gloves provided by the Library.
  • Use only the book snakes provided to assist in holding a book open; no other weight or apparatus is permitted.
  • Do not write or make marks in any book, fold the pages of any book, or use adhesive markers such as “post-it” notes.
  • Notes must be taken on paper laid on the table, not laid on the book. No tracings or rubbings may be made of any pages or binding of any book.
  • Should you find any unopened pages (pages which have not been cut), do not attempt to cut the pages yourself. Please bring the book to a librarian.
  • Should you wish to photocopy or scan any pages, please contact the Law Library Director or the Assistant Director for Public Services, who will determine whether the material may be photocopied/scanned, and will make the photocopies or scans. In some cases, rare materials may be too fragile or too tightly bound, and the request will be denied.
  • The researcher is responsible for obtaining all necessary permissions to publish material from Special Collections, and for compliance with all laws relating to copyright and defamation which may pertain to their use of the materials.

Concluding Your Research

When you have finished your research session, contact either the Law Library Director or the Assistant Director for Public Services by cell phone, who will secure the material and returned your belongings to you. 


Publications Resulting from Special Collections Research

The Law Library appreciates receiving copies of publications resulting from research in Special Collections, and also appreciates and requests acknowledgment of use of the collections.