Although officially established by an act of the Mississippi Legislature in 1838, the Mississippi State Library had its inception in an act of the General Assembly of 1815 which authorized the Secretary of the Territory to purchase a set of the acts of the United States Congress and a digest of the laws of the states of the Union. The emphasis of the collection was legal works, but it also contained material on travel, medicine, biography, church history, etc. By 1891, the State Library was considered to be the second finest of its kind in the Union, outranked only by the Massachusetts Library.
By an act approved February 11, 1860, the State Library was placed "under the management and control of the Governor, Judges of the High Court of Errors and Appeals and the Attorney General, for the time being, who shall be the Trustees of the said Library." In 1940, the Legislature designated the Governor, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Attorney General, and the State Superintendent of Education as members of the Board of Trustees for the Library. In 1989, the Mississippi Legislature placed the Library under the supervision and control of the Supreme Court of Mississippi and empowered the Court to adopt policies and procedures for the Library.
Since 1842, the State Librarian has been elected by a joint session of the Legislature. Prior to that date the Librarian was appointed by the Trustees. A tradition of electing a man who in turn appointed a woman in his stead began with the election of J.B. Harris, for Mrs. Mary Morancy, in 1876, and continued until 1896 when Mrs. Helen D. Bell was a candidate and elected in her own name. Until 1978, article 4, section 106 of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 stated that "any woman, a resident of the state four years, and who has attained the age of twenty years" was eligible for the office; in 1978, an amendment was ratified removing the qualifying specifications for the position.
The Library occupied the west wing on the second floor of the New Capitol until 1973 when it moved to the Carroll Gartin Justice Building. In 2008 it moved to the new Carroll Gartin Justice Building where it is located on the first and second floors of the west side of the building. The State Librarians have developed a rich heritage of primary legal materials for the collection. Many volumes are the original printings. The collection includes English and Canadian court reports from 1801 to 1982; the Congressional Record from 1789 to current issues, the Federal Register from 1936 to current issues, selected U.S. Government depository items since the mid 1880’s and an extensive collection of Mississippi primary and secondary legal resources.
The mission of the Mississippi State Law Library is to provide law library services to the Supreme Court and other state courts, to state officials and to the general public. In order to provide current legal information, the Library collects materials in all formats and types. The Library has been designated as a federal depository library of the Fourth U.S. Congressional District of the State of Mississippi since the mid-1880s.