The Trustees and staff of the Social Law Library are greatly saddened by the death of Edgar J. Bellefontaine. As Librarian from 1961 to 1998 Mr. Bellefontaine was the guiding force behind the Library’s many improvements and innovations. He kept the Library’s primary focus squarely on the patrons who depend on its resources and services. He guided the Library’s adoption of new technologies, forged a commitment to historic preservation, and encouraged nearly four decades of energetic development. He never forgot that the Library was founded as a “social” organization to foster a sense of professionalism and community among the members of the bench and bar. He was brilliant, enterprising, engaging and forever innovative. Made up of equal parts Maine and Metropolitan Boston, he was a much loved and gifted custodian of the law.


Edgar Bellefontaine’s dedication to new and improving technologies, combined with his respect and thoughtful preservation of the past, created a unique period in the Library’s two hundred year history—an information renaissance—and made the Social Law Library a leader among the nation’s law libraries. The Library “firsts” realized during his tenure present a chronology of Social Law Library automation and advancement: The installation of a coin operated copier (1963) and microfilm reader (1972); construction of a micro-fiche production laboratory (1974); production of microfiche editions of the Supreme Judicial Court and Appeals Court Records & Briefs (1975); the Colonial Court Records Program, the nation’s first-ever program for the restoration, preservation and indexing of colonial court records (1975); installation of West Publishing Company’s computerized legal research system WESTLAW (1976); creation of the Copy Center (1984); first endowed book fund established (1984); LEXIS/NEXIS membership group program debuts, one of the first library-based LEXIS subscription services in the country (1986); first organization in the nation to publish state agency information on CD-ROM with publication of Mass. Administrative Law Library (1989), followed by publication of Mass. Substantive Law Library (1992); automation of the Social Law Library catalog with installation of the VTLS Library System (1993); introduction of the Social Law Library Website, www.socialaw.com (1995); and creation of the TechCenter, providing public computer terminals for online research (1995). As a service to solo and small firm patrons challenged by the high cost of “going digital,” SLL in 1996 became an Internet Service Provider (ISP), and offered email services as well as Web-page design and hosting services (1996). Throughout these years and since, visiting judges, educators, practitioners and librarians have come from throughout the world to learn about the American system of law and the use of technology in legal research.

A graduate of the University of Maine and the Boston College Law School, Mr. Bellefontaine was an extraordinary citizen of the scholarly, legal and law library communities. His published scholarship was on the subject of court rules and on early Massachusetts legal history. His publications include “Post-conviction Remedies under the Rules of Criminal Procedure” (1981); “The Early History of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court” (1990); “Chief Justice Francis Dana: Patriot and Federalist” (1992); “Waitstill Winthrop” (1995); “Honorable Isaac Addington: Fervent Public Servant and Reluctant Chief Justice” (1996); and “Samuel Sewall: The Last Puritan Justice” (1998). He served twenty-two years as a member of the Massachusetts Judicial Records Committee, and was founding Director of the Supreme Judicial Court Historical Society.

In the mid-70’s he served as Reporter for the Massachusetts Judicial Conference Criminal Rules Project and as a Reporter for the Federal Speedy Trial Planning Group for the District of Massachusetts and the District of Rhode Island.

He is a former President of the New England Law Library Consortium and the American Association of Law Libraries’ (AALL’s) State, Court & County Law Libraries Section. He also served on the Law Library Microform Consortium Executive Committee and on a number of AALL special projects and committees. He was also a former member of the Boston College Law School Alumni Council and recipient of its Daniel G. Holland Lifetime Achievement Award.

In 1999 he received the highest distinction bestowed by the American Association of Law Libraries, the Miriam Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award. In addition, in 1996, in Edgar Bellefontaine’s honor, the Law Librarians of New England created and awarded him the inaugural Edgar Award for Innovation, Excellence and Dedication to the Practice of Law Librarianship. Other awards and recognitions extended to him include the AALL-SCCLL’s Bethany J. Ochal Award for Distinguished Service to the Profession, West Publishing Company’s Excellence in Government Law Librarianship Award, the Henry C. Lind Award of the Association of the Reporters of Judicial Decisions, and the Chief Justice’s Award for Distinguished Service to the Judiciary.

Founded more than two centuries ago, the Social Law Library is a cornerstone of the Massachusetts legal community—the “level playing field” of legal research essential to the administration of justice. For thirty-seven years, Edgar J. Bellefontaine’s extraordinary leadership transformed and advanced the institution. The Social Law family mourns his passing and sends their condolences to Edgar’s family and many friends.


A memorial service will be held at the Social Law Library. Date to be announced.

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