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‘Visionary’ SLU law library director dies at 94

Cindi Lash//January 9, 2019

‘Visionary’ SLU law library director dies at 94

Cindi Lash//January 9, 2019

Eileen Haughey Searls, a Saint Louis University law professor emerita and longtime director of the former Omer Poos Law Library at the university, died Jan. 6. She was 94.

Searls directed the law library — then named for the SLU graduate and former U.S. District Judge, now known as the Vincent C. Immel Law Library since 2014 — for 48 years. In 1964, she became the first woman to be promoted to full professor, and she later became the first to earn tenure at SLU School of Law.

Searls was described as a “visionary” in “Always at the Frontier: Saint Louis University 1818-2018” by Dolores Byrnes, a commemorative book published in conjunction with the university’s bicentennial. She joined the law school in 1952, shortly after it reopened after World War II, and set about transforming a law library that was undersized, understocked and unprepared to meet the needs of returning GIs who were enrolling in large numbers.

Byrnes’ book and other university records note her embrace of technology and architecture during construction of the library to ensure it incorporated the best of both, as well as the impressive collections she assembled when it opened.

Eileen Searls
Eileen Searls

An advocate of interlibrary cooperation, Searls bartered or brokered trades with other libraries. She salvaged books slated to be culled from other collections, cut smart deals with second-hand dealers and persuaded law firms to make gifts of their own volumes to the library. Despite a tight budget, she built a collection that offered myriad titles in international law as well as the Jewish Law Center, the Smurfit Irish Law Center and the Polish Law Collection, according to Byrnes’ book.

“She advised architects, secured the library status as a federal depository site and was the sole reason SLU was among the first 10 users of Westlaw and LexisNexis in the United States . . . she was a trailblazer in every sense of the word,” according to the book.

Through her career, Searls helped to shape law libraries around the country as a co-founder of the Law Library Microform Consortium and Mid-America Law School Library Consortium. She also was the founding chair of the Council of Law Library Consortium, a past chair of the Conference of Law Libraries of the ASCU, and a member of the American Library Association and other law library associations. The American Association of Law Libraries presented her with its Marian Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award in 1999 and inducted her into its Hall of Fame in 2010.

SLU officials also lauded her as a leader and mentor for women who followed her into law and legal education. In the 1970s, when relatively few women attended the law school, she hosted annual dinners for female students at her home. She also tutored, advised younger faculty members and participated in the Women’s Law Student Association.

“She would come in my office and sit for an hour and talk about what it meant to be a SLU Law faculty member, what it meant to be part of this community,” said professor emerita Sandra H. Johnson, a former interim dean of the School of Law and a former SLU provost.

A native of Madison, Wisconsin, Searls earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1948 and her law degree two years later from the University of Wisconsin. After earning a Master of Science in Library Science from the University of Wisconsin School of Library and Information Studies in 1951, she joined the SLU law library faculty in 1952. The university named her professor emerita when she retired in 2000.

“Today, as in 1952, Eileen’s library is more about the people at Saint Louis University School of Law than it is about books and computers,” then-Dean Jeffrey E. Lewis wrote in the SLU Law Journal after her retirement.

“Her former assistants manage their own law libraries throughout the country. Her former student workers include deans, judges, community leaders and practicing lawyers,” Lewis wrote. “The common link is that of Eileen’s guidance and direction, as well as her love of knowledge through books.”

In 2010, she established the Eileen Searls Book Award to help law school staff members to continue their education by contributing funds toward their book purchases. She established a separate award for law library student workers the following year.

The law school inducted Searls into its inaugural class of the SLU Law Order of the Fleur de Lis Hall of Fame — its highest honor — in 2015.

Searls also collected art and antiques and was an extensive world traveler, said her niece, Peggy Amacker. She moved to Annapolis in 2012 to be closer to family members in that area, her niece said.

In addition to Amacker, she is survived by one brother, Edward Searls of Charlottesville, Virginia; two sisters, Sheila Amacker of Charlottesville, Virginia, and Anne Brennan of Annapolis, Maryland; and numerous nieces and nephews.

Funeral arrangements will be handled by the George P. Kalas Funeral Home, 2973 Solomons Island Road, Edgewater, Maryland.

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