A Little History of “Noting Up”, or Why Noting Up Is Called “Noting Up” Anyways

Administrator’s note: thanks to Natalie Wing, Law Librarian at Yukon Public Law Library, for this guest tip!

WARNING: this post may contain disturbing content for those with deep anti-marking-up-of-library-book sensitivities.

Back in ye olden days, law clerks and law librarians used to write in the margins of case reporters, literally “noting up” the pages with citations for subsequent appellate decisions. Indeed, it would seem that librarians both sanctioned and participated in the marking up of library books, but of course only for very specific purposes, and conceivably only with the tidiest of (and most tidily placed) writing. Here is an example of an old noted up reporter from the Sir James Dunn Law Library (Halifax, NS), found and shared by reference librarian Nikki Tanner:

noting up

References to the practice of “noting up” can be traced back to at least the 19th century, when The Law Times provided practitioners with “Notes for Noting Up”, and when proposals for legal textbook volumes included plans to bind in blank leaves specifically for noting up so that the textbooks could contain the latest law:

A MEMBER has suggested that the first text-book of the Society should be one which shall comprise the entire Practice of Law [….]

It is further proposed that the volumes should be bound with blank leaves for noting up, and that in any digest of the Society a figure should refer to the page in the text-book in which the case or statute digested ought to be noted, so that the volumes should always keep pace with the existing law until a new edition is rendered necessary by the number of references (Verulam Society, (1844) 3 The Law Times 275).

This post was the result of a question asked of the broader Canadian Association of Law Libraries community. Many thanks in particular to Lynne McNeill, Nikki Tanner, and Katie Albright for knowing such things in the first place, and for sharing their knowledge.

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