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.
The Tarlton Library has long been a gem for legal and political researchers, and more than most other university law libraries it's been a leader in putting useful information online. I only met Professor Mersky a couple of times (he once helped me as a background source on a story), but I knew enough from those encounters to say he was more than just a librarian, a teacher and a scholar, he was an unsung Texas hero. Probably no one will ever know the full extent of his quiet contributions. We may mourn his passing, but should also celebrate a life well lived.
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