ROY MERSKY, 1925-2008
Director made UT law library one of the nation's best
By Claire Osborn
Thursday, May 08, 2008
Roy Mersky was a giant in his field who made the University of Texas law library one of the best in the nation, friends and colleagues said. Along the way, he taught worldwide, wrote prolifically and compiled a résumé more than 40 pages long.
"He was probably the most famous law librarian in the history of legal education," said Larry Sager, dean of the University of Texas School of Law.
Mersky, 82, died Tuesday at an Austin hospice. The director of the UT Tarlton Law Library had lymphoma and injured himself in a fall days before his death, his colleagues said.
Mersky had a "ruthless" determination to provide "absolutely magnificent" service to all library users, Sager said. "We may never see a heroic figure like Roy again."
Mersky, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, was interested in fighting for civil rights and religious freedom, UT President William Powers Jr. said. "He saw the law as a vehicle for doing that."
Mersky built an extensive collection of legal research and rare books at the library, Powers said.
Mersky also established a system so that each law school faculty member had a librarian to help with research, Powers said.
"I cannot imagine the profession without him. ... He was a legend," said Taylor Fitchett, director of the law library at the University of Virginia and a friend of Mersky's for 30 years. A book that Mersky helped write, "The Fundamentals of Legal Research," is the bible of legal research, she said.
Mersky, who was married with three children, became director of the library in 1965 after receiving three degrees at the University of Wisconsin, including a law degree. He pushed the people he trained at the library to teach and publish so that they got top jobs across the country, said Bob Berring, a law professor at the University of California-Berkeley.
"I went from Texas to Harvard," said Berring, who was hired by Mersky in the late 1970s. "Roy was all about networking, and he called the Tarlton 'the mother library' ... as in your mother never forgets you."
Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor who became friends with Mersky while she was an assistant UT professor in the late 1980s, said he was a tough man who talked about his experience as a machine gunner in World War II and showed her the scars on his hand from a war injury, she said.
"He talked about what it meant to have a job where the people who worked with you died, but you kept on doing your job anyway because you thought it was right," she said.