The Washington State Law Library traces its roots back to the Washington Territorial Library, established by the Organic Act of the Territory of Washington (10 Stat. 172) passed on March 2, 1853. Section 17 of this act provided for $5000 to be spent on books for the territorial library which was “to be kept at the seat of government.”
After his appointment as the Governor of Washington Territory on March 17, 1853, Isaac Ingalls Stevens made a trip to New York to make the initial purchases for the library, carefully selecting the best books in each field of learning. He also wrote the executives of the states and territories and many learned societies requesting gifts of their publications for the new library. The books were shipped around Cape Horn, arriving in Olympia in February 1854.
When Washington obtained statehood in 1889, the Washington Territorial Library became the Washington State Library. In 1907, the Legislature passed “an Act relating to the law department of the State Library,” creating the position of State Law Librarian in charge of the law department and serving at the pleasure of the Supreme Court. (1907 c32 §1)
In 1911, the State Capitol Commission approved the design for a new five-building complex by the New York architectural firm of Wilder and White. The Temple of Justice was the first building of the complex constructed and the State Library, including the Law Department, moved into the building in 1913.
1921 marked a significant event in the timeline of the Washington State Law Library when the Legislature passed an act (1921 c7 §12) creating the State Law Library Committee, consisting of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of State. The committee was charged with having the power and duty “to exercise all the powers and perform all the duties relating to the state law library now vested in, and required to be performed by, the state library commission.”
Finally, in 1959, the Washington State Law Library split from the State Library when the Legislature passed an act (1959 c188 §1) transferring jurisdiction of the State Law Library to the judicial branch of state government. The Supreme Court gained exclusive jurisdiction and control of the State Law Library and the State Law Library Committee was abolished. Also in 1959, the State Library made its move from the basement of the Temple of Justice to the new Washington State Library Building located immediately south of the Legislative Building. It has since moved to a building in Tumwater.
A renovation of the historic Temple of Justice was completed in 1989. The State Law Library continues to occupy the Main Reading Room as well as the Mezzanine and a portion of the lower level of the building.