A Storehouse of Capitol History – The Missouri Legislative Library

On the north side of the State Capitol Building, a half-moon-shaped room looks over the Statehouse grounds and the Missouri River in the distance. The room is situated above the governor’s office, just beyond the Hall of Famous Missourians and the sprawling third floor rotunda between the House and Senate chambers. While the Legislature is in session the Capitol is a buzz of activity and noise, but visitors who climb the short flight of marble steps leading into this room find a respite of calm.

The grandiose environment of the Missouri Legislative Library provides a respite from the hustle and bustle in the Capitol corridors, and an invaluable source of information and research assistance for legislators and their staffs.

The Legislative Library is an imposing space, even among the many spectacular rooms of Missouri’s Capitol. Eight massive columns reach to the domed ceiling above. Towering windows fill the space with natural light. A pair of mahogany tables are bleached to a maple hue by decades of exposure to the sun. A fourth-floor balcony promenade provides a popular vantage point for Capitol visitors to observe both the peaceful library and the bustle of activity on the rotunda floor.

Originally authorized in 1909, before fire destroyed Missouri’s second Capitol building in Jefferson City, the Legislative Library moved into this space in 1939. For nearly 80 years, it has served as the institutional memory of the Missouri General Assembly. Compared to the Supreme Court’s law library across the street and the Missouri State Library and Archives three blocks to the west, this facility is small. But when it comes to preserving the history of Missouri’s Legislature, it has no equal.

Library Director Nathan Elwood copies pages of a document using a new digital scanner that adds capabilities to the 80-year-old research facility.

Contained within its main reading area and the adjacent file room, the library holds legislative journals dating to 1837 and bound volumes that contain every bill and resolution passed by the General Assembly since 1904. Two centuries of Missouri’s Revised Statutes fill glass-front bookcases that climb the library’s walls — the top shelves only reachable atop rolling ladders. The library’s microfilm archive preserves records predating statehood, including a copy of every bill sponsored by legislators since 1909.

The library’s collection is not limited to dusty old law books and journals, however. The facility also serves as a vital tool for anyone needing to stay abreast of the various topics that lawmakers address.

“This library serves two important functions,” Library Director Nathan Elwood says. “We are the living history of the institution, but we’re also a research institution. We are here to facilitate the legislative process by providing up-to-date information about the topics of today.”

To that end, the Legislative Library subscribes to a wide range of specialized publications, periodicals and journals. Whether it’s the latest copy of the Congressional Digest or a magazine focused solely on health care issues, the library allows lawmakers and their staffs access to materials that most offices could not justify purchasing on their own. Westlaw, LexisNexis, CQ Researcher and other online research tools are also available. A modest collection of books relating to public policy issues and Missouri history completes the collection. When specific materials are not on hand, library staff can usually obtain the needed information through sharing agreements with other libraries.

The Legislative Library’s holdings include a variety of references that preserve the history of the Missouri General Assembly. These state manual “blue books” are just one example.

These resources and services are most commonly accessed by members of the General Assembly, their employees and the Capitol’s legislative research staff, but private policy advocates also frequently use the library. Often, regular visitors to the Capitol congregate in the library when the Legislature is in session. With public seating areas at a premium in the Rotunda, the library provides a relatively quiet respite from the crush of visitors who pack the hallways each spring.

Since assuming his position as head of the Legislative Library early in 2019, Elwood has focused on making the library more inviting to the public, at the same time he strives to expand its resources for Capitol insiders. The library has now posted its card catalog online and a number of resources are available through the library’s website. Official library cards are being issued for the first time in the facility’s history. While traditionally thought of as a library for lawmakers, the Capitol library staff increasingly reaches out to all Missourians.

“They’re not going to find any John Grisham novels on our shelves, but we are a great place to turn for information about Missouri’s laws and the history of the Legislature,” Elwood says. “People don’t need to be intimidated by this library. We’re here to assist, and anyone is welcome.”

For more information about Missouri’s Legislative Library, log onto www.senate.mo.gov/LegislativeLibrary, or visit the facility on the third floor of the State Capitol from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., every Monday through Friday, except state holidays.