When the High Court of the German Empire (Reichsgericht) was founded in 1879, its library received the book collection of the previously dissolved Higher Commercial Court (Reichsoberhandelsgericht) consisting of some 20,000 volumes.
Karl Schulz (1844-1929), who was director of the library at the High Court of the German Empire for more than 38 years until 1917, devoted himself entirely to this book collection, continually enlarging the collection and increasing its diversity by buying judicial as well as non-judicial literature. Around 1900, the library already contained around 115,000 volumes. Schulz endeavoured to document the development of German law within a European context from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. In addition, he also acquired antique literature, obtaining copies of almost every book published after 1800 as well as a substantial collection of books published before 1800, among them rarities like "corpus iuris civilis" or "corpus iuris canonici". In the years that followed until the beginning of World War I, the collection grew to 170,000 volumes, becoming one of the largest and most important judicial libraries in Germany.
During WW I, the budget was cut dramatically, which meant a reduction in library staff and the amount of non-judicial literature that could be purchased. The Court's policy of cutbacks advised selling books considered to be "nonessential", which meant the non-judicial part of the collection. Nevertheless, in 1929, the year of the library's 50th anniversary, the library still boasted more than 238,000 volumes.
The World Wars
During WW II, the city of Leipzig suffered heavy air raids. After an air raid on 6 April 1945, the northern part of the building where the library was housed was completely destroyed. Shortly after the first of those disastrous attacks, the head of the library at that time, Paul Günzel, took effective measures to protect the valuable book collection from destruction. One part of the collection was stored in the underground vault of the former Reichsgericht, while the rest was kept in the basement of the Battle of Nations Memorial (Völkerschlachtdenkmal). Despite the successful implementation of these protective measures, 20,000 volumes were still lost.
The Post-War Period
In October 1945, the library of the by then defunct High Court of the German Empire came under the control of the president of the regional court (Landgericht) in Leipzig. In the years that followed, not only judges, lawyers and scientists had access to the books, but also professors and students of Leipzig University.
In autumn 1950, after the library of the former High Court of the German Empire had been integrated into the library of the GDR's High Court of Justice (Oberstes Gericht der DDR), the books were transferred from Leipzig to Berlin to the same building where the High Court of Justice had its seat. In the years that followed, the library was rarely used at all, since the judges who worked there were only interested in literature pertaining to criminal law.
In 1974, the library was moved again to another part of Berlin to a building that had a storage capacity of only 10,000 volumes. The majority of the non-judicial literature was therefore given to the German National Library (Deutsche Staatsbibliothek). Many books were discarded, since they were too damaged to be repaired or restored again.
After 1976 the number of new acquisitions continually decreased due to lack of funds. The library could no longer fulfil its task of providing the High Court of Justice with an adequate supply of judicial literature.
Reunification, 3 October 1990
After reunification, the Ministry of Justice put the Federal Civil Court (Bundesgerichtshof) in charge of the collection and staff of the library of what used to be the highest court in the GDR. The books were transported to Karlsruhe, where they were checked, repaired and partially catalogued. Some of the books had been damaged during the long storage period under unsuitable conditions. A discussion about the future location of the former library of the Reichsgericht ensued after the Federal Civil Court decided not to move from Karlsruhe to Leipzig. Instead, the Federal Administrative Court was chosen to move from Berlin to Leipzig. The Federal Administrative Court, in turn, wanted to bring the collection back to its original location in Leipzig. After much discussion and debate, it was decided to divide the collection.
Today, around 74,500 volumes of the former library of the Reichsgericht are located in Leipzig.
With the aim of making this vast and valuable collection available to the general public, the Court plans to catalogue the works and create an open-access catalogue.