Legacy of Balfour Halévy is at the heart of a renowned collection

It’s not easy being a librarian when you don’t have a library. 

Yet that’s the predicament Osgoode’s founding law librarian Balfour Halévy (left), for whom the law library’s Special Collections were recently named, faced in 1967 when he arrived at York to set up the new law library in the new law school building.

Due to construction delays, occupancy of the new law school building was postponed from July 1968 to May 1969. That left Osgoode faculty and students in their old home (with its small student library) at Osgoode Hall on Queen Street, Toronto, for the 1968-1969 academic session.

And that left Halévy scrambling to find warehouse space to receive and store shipments of hundreds of boxes of books for the new law library.

With colleagues such as former assistant law librarian Judy Ginsberg –as well as the late Diana Priestly, who was a librarian at Osgoode for two years and also helped set up a number of other law libraries including the University of Victoria’s that was later named after her – Halévy found that warehouse space on Finch Avenue West, within a five-minute drive of the campus. It was there that the first 150,000 volumes designated for the new law library were acquired and shelved.

“We were terribly lucky because we were the first Canadian law school library to get a substantial amount of money ($1 million) from the Ontario government to purchase books,” says Halévy, who has two law degrees as well as a master of science in library sciences. “There was little or no competition for anything that was available on the market.” 

Right: Balfour Halévy (left) looks on as Osgoode Hall Law School Dean Patrick Monahan reveals the commemorative plaque that announces the renaming of Osgoode’s Special Collections in Halévy’s honour

Halévy credits Ginsberg, Priestly and long-time friend Ken Barnett, a retired sales representative with Carswell Publishing (which ran a second-hand book service) with helping to build the law library’s collection in the late ’60s and into the ’70s. 

Today, Osgoode’s law library is considered one of the finest and largest law libraries in the Commonwealth and has about 500,000 volumes or volume equivalents such as microfilm and microfiche. 

Starting next year, the law library will undergo renovations as part of the Building Osgoode Campaign to renovate and expand the law school’s 40-year-old building. The library’s rare book room will be named the Canada Law Book Rare Book Room in recognition of donor, Canada Law Book Inc., and the Special Collections in the rare book room will bear Halévy’s name in recognition of his instrumental role in developing the law library, including the Special Collections, from scratch.   

A reception and dinner in Halévy’s honour were held on March 26 for the unveiling of a special plaque recognizing not only how he helped to create the law library, but also for his deep commitment to legal education and legal bibliography. 

Barnett, Anne Crocker, a retired law librarian of the Gerard V. La Forest Law Library at the University of New Brunswick, Ginsberg, current Osgoode law librarian Louis Mirando, and Osgoode Dean Patrick Monahan were among those who paid tribute to Halévy’s vision and his profound impact on Canadian law librarianship.

Left: The commemorative plaque

No stranger to awards, Halévy, who retired in 1999 but has continued to research and compile a bibliography of Canadian law from the earliest times through 1980, has been honoured previously by the Canadian Association of Law Libraries, the American Association of Law Libraries and the Law Foundation of Ontario, and he has also generously endowed a bursary fund to support LLB students at Osgoode. 

Halévy said he is “very touched and grateful” at the naming of the Special Collections in his honour, and he praised the work of Osgoode’s law library staff. 

“A library is not one person,” he said. “A library is a collection, whether it’s online or hard copy, serviced by skilled people.  We’ve been blessed over the years to have had really talented people working in the law library.”