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An Interview with Pamela Barnes Craig, Senior Legal Reference Librarian

This week’s interview is with Pamela Barnes Craig, Senior Legal Reference Librarian in our Public Services Division.

Describe your background.

I was born in Chicago, IL, and lived there the first nine years of my life.  My stepfather was in the U.S. Army, so I’ve lived in different countries and cultures.  I lived in Okinawa, Pennsylvania (around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh), Illinois (Springfield and Chicago), and Germany as a child and teenager. In fact, I graduated from a high school in Karlsruhe, Germany (military base).  I am a child of the 1950s, so I remember segregation.  I spent my summers as a child in Arkansas.  The Dairy Queen had a water fountain outside that was labeled “Colored.”  We had to order our ice cream cones at the outside window.  As an aside, the Dairy Queen was the only place my grandmother would allow us (my cousins and me) to go in town that practiced segregation.  For instance, blacks could go to the white theater, but we had to sit in the balcony.  My grandmother would not allow us to go to the white theater; we went to the “negro” theater.

As a result of my experiences growing up, I have a profound respect for the culture of other people and nations – even if I do not agree with the thinking or aspects of that culture.  Additionally, I have taken an active interest in researching black history and culture and the laws that impacted my heritage.

What is your academic/professional history?

I have a B.S. degree from Northwestern University (Evanston, IL), MSLS from Atlanta University (presently, Clark-Atlanta University) (Atlanta, GA), and a J.D. from University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana, IL).  My first career was a high school English teacher in Atlanta, GA; I taught grades 8-12.  I then attended Library School and became a librarian.  After library school, I worked as Assistant to the Dean at the Atlanta University School of Library and Information Studies until I went to law school.  While I worked at the Library School, I worked part-time at SOLINET where I did cataloging, primarily copy cataloging, but also some original cataloging.

While in law school, I worked at the law school library.  My first job was to input serial titles in the MAALL file, so other members of the consortium would know the holdings of the University of Illinois Law School.  I assumed reference duties because most of the librarians were scheduled to go to the AALL conference.  What an experience that was!  The first question I received dumbfounded me, and here I was a budding 2L.

After graduating, I went to Cooley Law Library in Lansing, Michigan.  I stayed there two years.  I did reference work, taught WESTLAW and LEXIS-NEXIS, and functioned as a faculty liaison.  As faculty liaison I was assigned several faculty members; I was responsible for providing the faculty members with items they needed for research and writing.  My next job was at the Law Library of Congress.

How would you describe your job to other people?

I usually do not describe my job to other people – I usually say “I’m a law librarian” if I’m asked.  Trying to describe my job is difficult because I have done many things in addition to reference and research work during my tenure at the Library.  They include:

  • Teacher – classes include Legal Research Orientation and Orientation to THOMAS.
  • Volunteer docent – When I first started, the Library of Congress created a docent program for staff.  I wanted to know the Library and the Great Hall, so I volunteered.  Since I had taught school, I was asked to give tours to children’s groups.
  • Curator – Library of Congress exhibits – I have been a curator on a number of exhibits at the Library of Congress, including “African American Odyssey” and “With an Even Hand: Brown vs. Board at Fifty.”  I have given tours of these exhibits to groups.  I have been fortunate enough to be a Gallery talk speaker on two occasions.  Additionally, I was granted the privilege of giving Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg a tour of the “With an Even Hand: Brown vs. Board at Fifty” exhibit. . . just her, her bodyguards, and me.  How cool is that!
  • Researcher/writer – I was the author of the chapter on the Law Library in American Women: A Library of Congress Guide for the Study of Women’s History and Culture in the United States (2001).  The book is now available electronically on the American Memory website.  I participated in the Symposium.  I was the escort for Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and her husband for the panel discussion that included both her and Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

I also do legal research presentations and mentor new employees, including Christine Sellers.

Why did you want to work at the Law Library of Congress?

I wanted to work in the Copyright Office and had heard the best way to transfer into a job there was to be at the Library.  I had been an English teacher, librarian, and lawyer, so I figured the Copyright Office was the place to be.  After I was here a few months, I realized how fortunate I was to have a job in the Law Library.  In the Law Library I was able to research many different legal topics instead of only a few, work with the collections, teach legal research, and work on Library-wide projects.  The possibilities were almost endless. . . and, believe me, I’ve taken advantage of the possibilities.  The possibilities have been what have kept me at the Law Library of Congress.  I tend to be a work gypsy, so having so many things available in one location is a boon.

What is the most interesting fact you’ve learned about the Law Library?

There are so many interesting facts about the Law Library, but the most interesting to me was that the Law Library did not function as a sole entity.  I had worked for academic law libraries prior to coming here; the collections are pretty contained in one library.  Working in the Law Library was different. . . you had to know in what other reading rooms materials were housed, since not all the reading rooms had their collections in GenBib files and there was no ILS.  Most of us knew the H and JK classification like we knew the K because so many materials that pertained to law were classed in JK (political science) and H (police and corrections).

What’s something most of your co-workers do not know about you?

I won second place in a talent show for singing a Japanese song.  The talent show was a weekly show on television in Naha, Okinawa.  My prize was $5.00. Mr. Kuba delivered our laundry, usually military uniforms, for his family company, and he and his wife became friends with my family.  He taught me the song and encouraged me to try out for the talent show.  I had my television debut at twelve years old.  No, I do not remember the song, but I do have a copy of it – it’s a 45 rpm record.

9 Comments

  1. Mike Willens
    November 24, 2010 at 11:38 pm

    And one of my favorite teachers!! I took her class on Legal Research about ~5+ years ago. Pam is nice, down to earth and I learned a lot of things from her that I continue to use in my job today! Very interesting profile!

  2. Cheryl Nyberg
    November 29, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    Although I have known Pam for a long time (from her time at the University of Illinois) I didn’t know what cool things she has done in her past or since joining the Law Library of Congress. Thanks for sharing, Pam!

  3. Eric Kennedy
    December 1, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    I am fortunate to have worked with Pam at Cooley Law School library and she was very influential in my becomming a librarian. It would sure be neat to hear that 45 rpm record. Maybe we could borrow via ILL.

  4. John Michaud
    December 9, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    The opportunity to overhear this conversation was delightful.

  5. Ora Barnes Stevens
    January 10, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    Pam, I am really, really,really proud of all that you have accomplished in your short life. For you life has just begun, so, live it with all the ‘Barnes Gusto’ you can muster.
    Auntie

  6. Alice Barnes Rose
    January 10, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    What an interesting interview! So many remarkable things to learn about you and your world of work. I really enjoyed reading the article.

  7. Tam Nguyen
    February 25, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    Pam,
    I am proud of you.

  8. Todd Bauer
    March 5, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    I was fortunate enough to have Pam as one of my English teachers and home room teachers threw out my high school career. She was a very motivating and inspirational person and I will never forget her and the many days that I encountered her.

  9. Deek Korn
    March 5, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    Did you teach at Riverwood High School(Atlanta GA) during the 1970’s?

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