Morris L. Cohen, 83, a book lover who shunned the practice of law because it was too contentious and became one of the nation's most influential legal librarians, bringing the Harvard and Yale law libraries into the digital age, died Dec. 18 at his home in New Haven, Conn.

The cause was leukemia, his wife, Gloria, said.

Mr. Cohen had worked at his Uncle Max's law firm and on his own in Brooklyn in the 1950s before deciding he wasn't cut out for that work.

Instead, he would become director of the law libraries at the former University of Buffalo, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, and Yale. He brought to those positions a fascination with legal history - as evidenced in the six-volume Bibliography of Early American Law (1998), which he researched and compiled for 35 years - and with modernizing law libraries.

Mr. Cohen's own books became essential reference material. Among them are Legal Research in a Nutshell (1968), Law: The Art of Justice (1992), and A Guide to the Early Reports of the Supreme Court of the United States (1995).

Mr. Cohen, born in New York City, earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Chicago in 1947, his law degree from Columbia University in 1951, and a master's in library science at the Pratt Institute in 1959. He taught legal bibliography at Penn from 1963 to 1971.

- N.Y. Times News Service