Our Directors, Our Shelves

By Christine Anne George

Back in 2012, SUNY Buffalo Law School kicked off celebrations for its 125th anniversary. The following year, the Supreme Court Library at Buffalo celebrated its 150th anniversary. I’d be lying if I denied having a bit of a Veruca Salt response. I wanted a party. Where was my (library’s) party? Funny thing about that—the answer wasn’t readily available. The SUNY Buffalo Law Library doesn’t have the same anniversary as the Law School. It was a point of pride back in 1887 when the law school was founded that local Buffalo attorneys would open up their offices and personal libraries to students. The first library director took her post in 1936, but the school’s library had opened its doors sometime in the interim. Eventually I found out that the start date was 1909. Alas, my anniversary party ship had sailed.

Mildred Miles

Mildred Miles

There was a silver lining to my fully realized FOMO. I learned a lot about the first fifty years of the Charles B. Sears Law Library (then known as the Buffalo Law Library). What really captured my interest were the directors. We had some really interesting characters stewarding our stacks, but it is difficult to learn much beyond basic facts. Our first director was Mildred Miles. Mildred was Buffalo born and raised. She attended Wellesley College, went off to China to teach, and eventually was called to the bar of England in Middle Temple in 1933. By 1936, she was back in Buffalo, serving as Librarian for three years. She married future dean but then professor Louis Jaffe. The Jaffes eventually moved to Massachusetts when Louis took a job at Harvard Law.

The lesson here is that institutional history is important because it sheds light on where we are today. It’s also incredibly difficult to piece together after the fact. I dug through both the Law Library Archives and University Archives to pull together the brief history I have of our directors. I’ve been able to gather some completely random facts that are fun but don’t really paint a completely picture. For instance, if asked, I could host a bus tour through Buffalo and identify each and every one of the address where our directors resided while holding the position thanks to University directories. (In case you’re wondering, no one’s asked for the tour.) As for the day-to-day stuff, there really isn’t much, which led me to bemoan the lack of surviving materials. There are annual reports, but these mostly cover library holdings. Important, yes, but not exactly brimming with human interest. If only Mildred had been a compulsive journaler who, upon filling a volume, would wrap it with acid-free paper and leave it in a temperature controlled environment in anticipation of the history hungry archivist/librarian who would come in several decades.

I’ve tried to do my part to make sure that this early history isn’t forgotten. For instance, my colleagues received Millie M&Ms for the holidays last year and the Oscar-like contest I mentioned in my last post is named for her. When ALA’s Feminist Task Force had a call for Women of Library History back in 2013, I wrote a post about Mildred. On the flip side, I try to collect items that document the current librarian experience at the Law Library. It is a bit daunting though, thinking about future librarians looking back at what’s happening now. Maybe it’s because, in the back of my mind, I can’t help but wonder if a future librarian will consider me M&M worthy.

Mildred Miles=M&M

Mildred Miles=M&M

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3 Responses to Our Directors, Our Shelves

  1. Christine, did you actually write up a history of the Sears Law Library? If so, as a UB Law alumna and a former Buffalo resident, I’d love to read it! Thanks! Barbara Traub

  2. Barbara Bintliff says:

    Christine, Tarlton has a digital history of the UT Law Library Directors (https://tarlton.law.utexas.edu/exhibits/directors/) and pictures of them in a prominent place in the office suite. But we don’t have a history of the library itself. I guess we need to get working on that–thanks for the suggestion!

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