The Founding of C J Koh Law Library
By: Chai Yee Xin
Research Librarian, Law, National University of Singapore
Member of the IALL Board of Directors
Named after the late Chief Justice, Koh Choon Joo, The C J Koh Law Library is part of the network of NUS Libraries and the largest law library in Singapore. Historically, it had been seen as the de facto law library of Singapore as it is relied upon, not just by the National University of Singapore, but by many legal practitioners, judges, and academic institutions around the country.
The library holds a comprehensive collection of Singapore legal resources as well as extensive collections of legal resources from other countries such as, but not limited to, Australia, Canada, India, Malaysia, and the United Kingdom. This is owing to Singapore’s diverse legal history prior to its independence, being part of the commonwealth and Malaya up until 1965. The collection’s strengths also are on international and comparative law; international trade law; as well as the laws of the European Community.
However, some of my favourite parts of the library lie in its history.
The Law School was developed a little later in the University of Malaya’s history in [YYYY]. The first dean, Lionel Astor “L.A.” Sheridan, aimed to create a law library that was completely self-sufficient in its collection, given that there were not many law libraries that were easily accessible for Singaporean academics and legal practitioners. Despite his ambitions he stated:
“Even so, it will, I am afraid, look a very poor library alongside those of the leading law schools of the Commonwealth and the United States of America.”
Despite these challenges, there was great success in developing a collection of almost all major English reports and laws at the time and an almost complete collection of Malayan law. Some materials were difficult to acquire, such as pre-war materials which were mostly lost after Japanese occupation in the region.
The first Head of the Law Library to be appointed was Elizabeth Srinivasgam, who was a previous Barrister-at-Law of the Middle Temple and who subsequently went to Columbia University to study her Master of Science (Library) Degree. She went on to write two valuable research tools at the time, Tables of the Written Laws of the Republic of Singapore, 1819-1971 and the Sesquicentennial Chronological Tables of the Written Laws of the Republic of Singapore, 1834-1984.
As a result of its preliminary leadership, the library had been regarded by local academics as one of the best law libraries in Southeast Asia and by the third dean of the law School, G.W. Bartholomew: “one of the finest university law libraries to be found in the common law world”.
Which I personally admire, given the humble thoughts of Sheridan when he first planned the law library!
Andrew Phang, ‘Founding Father and Legal Scholar – The Life and Work of Professor LA Sheridan’ (1999) Sing J Legal Stud 335
NUS Libraries, C J Koh Law Library (Website) <https://nus.edu.sg/nuslibraries/spaces/our-libraries/c-j-koh-law-library> accessed 29 4 2023
Lee Ang Shoy, ‘A Tribute to Professor L.A. Sheridan’ (1984) 5 Sing L Rev 1
L.A. Sheridan, ‘In Malaya’ (1958) 1 Me Judice 3
L.A. Sheridan, ‘Legal Education in Malaya’ (1957) 4 JSPTL (NS) 19
This Blog contains entries by members of the International Association of Law Libraries on issues germane to the Association’s areas of focus. Views expressed in an individual entry only represent the views of the author.