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Working with the American Law Institute Collections

February 29, 2024

Archives Boxes
Archives Boxes

Biddle Law Library’s Archives and Special Collections intern, Abigail Boyer, reflects on working with the American Law Institute’s collections.

Portrait of Abigail My name is Abigail Boyer, and for the past year, I have had the pleasure of working with the Biddle Law Library’s Archives and Special Collections as an intern. The projects I have worked on are all part of the American Law Institute’s collection of materials; the work I completed on the First Restatement of the Law records, the Second Restatement of the Law records, and the Uniform Commercial Code records closely relate to two of my biggest values as an archivist: access and preservation.

One of the interesting aspects of working with American Law Institute materials has been witnessing the close connection of the institute with University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School; throughout their histories, the Law School and Institute shared members of their communities. One of the most notable figures is William Draper Lewis who served not only as an American Law Institute president but also as a professor and Dean for the Law School. This close affiliation of the ALI and the Law School lives on with the Biddle Law Library Archives. My tasks throughout this internship focused on bringing each collection up to current archival standards.

Portrait of William Draper Lewis Portrait of William Draper Lewis

What does it mean to bring a collection up to current archival standards? I’ll use a favorite phrase of my Penn Archivist colleagues: It Depends. For the collections I worked with, this meant finding aid updates, physical reorganization, and preservation work. Archives work is an iterative process; what worked best twenty years ago with a finding aid does not always support a collection’s current accessibility. Updating finding aids to align with current user methods has been a core component of my work; this looks like performing edits to folder titles – somewhere between 1500 and 2000 (but who’s counting) – or editing scope notes in addition to updating inventory information. All these tasks increase the accessibility of finding aids so that researchers can easily find the materials they need.

The preservation aspects of my projects varied from collection to collection. In the Second Restatement of the Law records, I rehoused oversized materials. Page proofs of the Second Restatement of the Law were folded to fit in legal sized folders, but most measured over 30 inches and needed to lay flat to ensure their longevity. For the First Restatement of the Law records, I corrected slumping, removed dust, and digitized crumbling materials—some dating to 1923. In addition, I digitized over 2,000 pages of American Law Institute materials and created metadata for each document. Digitization will not only preserve those materials and prevent future damage but will also make those materials more accessible to a wider audience. A selection are available online.

The most surprising aspect of my work has been seeing the amount of correspondence. Before email and before the fax machine, the American Law Institute members mailed each other drafts, revisions, comments, and correspondence. From around the country and around the world, these individuals diligently researched and conducted lengthy discussions about their projects from the exact words they used, to the cases included as examples. Throughout all these letters and telegrams, I found a myriad of closing statements that show the passion of these lawyers for their work and their colleagues, and I’d like to share a few of them with you:

Sincerely Yours,

William A. Schnader requesting materials from the ALI William A. Schnader requesting materials from the ALI

 

Faithfully Yours,

George Wharton Pepper correspondence with William Draper Lewis George Wharton Pepper correspondence with William Draper Lewis

 

Affectionately Yours,

George Wharton Pepper cryptically updates William Draper Lewis George Wharton Pepper cryptically updates William Draper Lewis

 

Yours Sincerely, 

William Prosser updates William Draper Lewis on World Series William Prosser updates William Draper Lewis on World Series

 

Working on the American Law Institute’s collections has provided me with an amazing opportunity for growth, and the work has been a true pleasure; to be able to reflect on the updates I made and the work I completed to increase access and preserve these materials makes my heart swell with pride.

Affectionately your Archives intern,

Abigail

 

For more information about the items featured above or about the entire ALI collection, view the complete guide to the American Law Institute collections online, and to access the collection in person or to ask any additional questions, please contact the Biddle Archives and Special Collections Department.