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Law collection policy

History of the Collection:

McGill’s Law Library began in the middle of the 19th Century as a limited holding of law books assembled to support legal instruction at the Faculty of Law. This holding became a proper law library in 1882 when Judge Robert MacKay donated of his vast collection of law books, focused on Civil law, to McGill University. Throughout the past century and a half, the library has supported the teaching and research of Law at McGill.

Current Collection Development:

The Law Library acquires or provides access to the Legal resources required by its core users i.e. Faculty and students of McGill University. Since 1968 McGill has been the only law faculty to offer undergraduates a civil and common law degree in the same program. In 1999 the Law Faculty’s unique trans-systemic method of teaching those programs (in which acquiring both a B.C.L. and LL.B. is mandatory) called for a radical change in the acquisitions practices of the Library in order to foster the purchase of monographs. With full Faculty support, the Library currently devotes half of its budget to monographs acquisition, a fivefold increase on the 1999 figure which both maintains historic strengths and supports research and teaching of a legal nature at McGill.

Academic & Research Programs:

Undergraduate Studies:

The joint common law/civil law course of study allows undergraduates some freedom in selecting research-type projects (term essays, competitive mooting, McGill Law Journal work, etc.) in addition to course work. Bibliographic support of the full range of courses offered in both major legal traditions calls for the active participation of the Wainwright Librarian in the Faculty’s Curriculum Committee. Many courses from other faculties have a legal theme and students throughout McGill use the Law Library’s documentation.

Graduate Studies:

Enrollment in graduate programs doubled in the past ten years and now numbers about one hundred and fifty students. Students can enroll in specialized programs i.e. Air & Space or Comparative Law or in the non-thesis LL.M. As a member of the Graduate Studies Committee the Wainwright Librarian reviews applications from prospective students and focuses library acquisitions accordingly.

Research Centres & Institutes:

There are ten research centres associated with the Faculty of Law. Acquisitions practices follow the research agenda of the diverse bodies listed below in order to meet their bibliographic needs:


  • Centre for Intellectual Property Policy
  • Centre for International Sustainable Development Law
  • Centre for the Study of Regulated Industries
  • Institute for European Studies
  • Institute of Air and Space Law
  • Institute of Comparative Law
  • McGill Centre of Human Rights and Legal Pluralism
  • McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law
  • Quebec Research Centre of Private and Comparative Law
  • Research Centre in Air and Space Law


General Collection Guidelines:

Types of materials:

Half of the library’s budget is spent on serials with a scholarly interest, however acquisition of loose-leaf materials is eschewed given problems of form, content and cost associated with these publications. Acquisition of the electronic versions of serials are a priority as the Library’s core users rely extensively on materials available through providers such as HeinOnline and Berkeley Electronic Press for English language publication while vendors such as Lextenso, Jurisquare, and Dalloz provide access to French language electronic journals. Most licensing agreements with editors of electronic journals allow for deep linking from MyCourses (McGill course management system). The Law Library secures public performance rights for the DVDs it acquires.

Consolidated statutes are excluded from the collection given the ephemeral nature of their content. Legal materials of an exclusively practical nature are not collected as these cannot support teaching & research at McGill and are available in other Law Libraries in Montreal.

Essay Collections [Festschriften, homages, mélanges journées etc.] are collected exhaustively as these works are often multilingual and contain original unique works by both established and unknown scholars.


As well as providing a full range of materials on Common Law, Civil Law & International Law, the Library maintains a comprehensive collection on specialized domains such as Human Rights, Legal Unification, Roman Law, Canon Law and International Criminal Law. In conjunction with the bibliographers in Islamic & Jewish Studies, the Law Library maintains a collection of monographs on Islamic and Talmudic Law in either English, French or German and not in the vernacular languages of these subjects.


English & French are the primary languages of the collection.
Works on Private Law in German, Italian & Spanish are also acquired. Selective acquisition of German original works on Human Rights & Talmudic Law are acquired if no translation is forthcoming.

Geographical Coverage:

Preference is given to material from Canadian, American, United Kingdom and Western European publishers. Some publications from Commonwealth countries and Latin America are also purchased if they contain themes of interest to core users.

Date of Publication:

Emphasis is on current material i.e. published within the last three years. Donations and retrospective acquisitions are used to upgrade specific areas of the collection and to replace important books or journals which have deteriorated or disappeared.

Special Funds:

John Humphrey Fund: Endowed to purchase of monographs on Human Rights & the United Nations.

Joel King Fund: Endowed to purchase materials on Talmudic Law.

Scott Constitutional Law Fund: Endowed to purchase monographs on Constitutional Law & Constitutional history.

Harry Heward Stikeman Fund: Endowed to purchase materials on Tax Law & International Trade Law.

The Arnold Wainwright Trust’s annual grant: Funds granted upon application are expended on the purchase of monographs on themes relating to the Civil law agreed to annually by the Trustees & the Wainwright Librarian.


Library collections should be evaluated on a regular basis with a view to retention, repair, replacement or de-selection ("weeding"). This work is essential to ensure the collection continues to serve user needs and supports a changing curriculum. De-selection decisions must be done very conservatively given the research-intensive nature of the McGill Faculty of Law. Older and superseded materials can have historical significance and should be retained, while others may simply be misleading to inexperienced users and should be withdrawn. The Collections Librarian should carefully evaluate all materials considered for de-selection, in terms of the Law Library collection policy, the teaching and research mission of the Faculty and the uniqueness of the material.


Individual requests for monograph purchases are always rapidly honoured. Faculty and student input is encouraged on selection decisions. The Law Library is an active member of the Groupe de travail des directeurs des Bibliotheques de droit of CREPUQ which assures active participation in the many consortia assembled to purchase legal materials. Since 2000, the Library has housed the Secretariat of the French part of the Walter Owen Book Prize of the Canadian Bar Association.

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