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An Interview with Matthew Braun, Legal Reference Librarian

This week’s interview is with Matthew Braun, a Legal Reference Librarian in the Public Services Division.

Describe your background.

I have been Legal Reference Librarian at the Law Library of Congress since February 2009.  My roots are in the Midwest, as I was born in South Bend, Indiana, have most of my extended family in the Detroit, Michigan, area, and was raised mainly in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Of note, my Ohio roots have given me quite a discriminating taste for chili and ice cream.

What is your academic/professional history?

I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication and Criminology from Miami University (which, in case you do not know, is in Oxford, Ohio, and nowhere near South Florida).  Following college, I worked for one year as a litigation clerk and a paralegal in the main office of what is now Frost Brown Todd LLC, in Cincinnati.  It was during this year at Frost Brown Todd that I first developed an interest in law librarianship, since the firm had quite an extensive print collection and my position provided me ample opportunities to utilize it.  Also, one of my fellow paralegals was completing her master’s degree in library science at the time and had agreed to become the firm’s assistant librarian, thus providing for some great conversations about this unique profession.

I then attended law school at The Ohio State University (the “the” is actually in the university’s name…thus I am obliged to use it), and, through spending countless hours in the law library, started to feel quite at home among items such as American Jurisprudence 2d and West’s Decennial Digest (I have always liked books with colorful spines).  After reading an article about law librarianship in a law student magazine (ironically, written by a law librarian at Ohio State whom I had never met), I began to explore the ins and outs of the profession more closely.

After one of my professors in the Legislation Clinic at Ohio State told me, “You know, Matt, I can really see you as a law librarian,” I started looking into library schools.  A desire to temporarily leave the Midwest, and a curiosity about sweet tea, led me to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (“UNC”).

At UNC, I served as Graduate Assistant in the law library for the last year of my year-and-a-half of studies, and was able work on projects in the public services, technical services, and information technology departments of the library, as well as spend prodigious amounts of time staffing the reference desk.  I wrote new research guides, advised a small group of law students who worked the reference desk at down times, and helped to coordinate a large shifting project that required us to remove thousands of case reporters from the law building to a storage facility in the original university library.  It was about as rewarding and fun as I could have ever imagined library school to be.

Upon graduating from UNC, I became Reference Librarian at The George Washington University’s law library here in Washington, DC (again, another university with a “the” at the beginning of its name…strange).  At GW, I worked on faculty research projects (space law was always a favorite of mine), assisted Juris Doctor (J.D.) and Master of Laws (LL.M.) students in using the library’s resources for a variety of endeavors (most of the time for academic work, sometimes for job-related tasks), and taught legal research sessions ranging from how to navigate through The Bluebook to how to use legal blogs in research for seminar papers and law review notes.

After a year as generalist librarian, I became the library’s specialist in intellectual property law, which allowed me to develop and maintain particular parts of the library’s print and electronic collections (buying books, indeed, never gets old) and work closely with faculty members and students who shared my interests in the areas of copyright, patent, and trademark law.

Finally, after a little more than two years as Reference/Intellectual Property Librarian at GW, I took my current position at the Law Library of Congress.

How would you describe your job to other people?

As with my past library positions, I have responsibilities in a number of areas.  First, and foremost, I help to staff the reference desk in the Law Library Reading Room, assisting congressional staff members and public readers on how to use our vast collections to find the particular information of interest to them.  Second, I answer questions sent to the Law Library through the Library of Congress’s “Ask a Librarian” service, where I often suggest ways that correspondents may even find information in law libraries close to where they live.

Third, I participate in the Law Library’s teaching program for congressional staff, by conducting briefings for new staff members on how the Law Library can help them with their research projects, and (starting in April 2011) by teaching a half-day class on how to effectively research federal legislative history.  Fourth, I maintain the Law Library’s Databases and eResources page and am the curator for a legal blog archive which the Law Library has had since 2007.

Why did you want to work at the Law Library?

The most attractive part of being a law librarian in the Washington, D.C. area, to me, is the chance to work in settings and with collections that are simply not found elsewhere.  Indeed, there is only one Law Library of Congress, and I could not pass up an opportunity to learn and to grow as professional in this environment.

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

I find it quite interesting that more than half of the Law Library’s print collection is in languages other than English.  This fact points to the importance of the Law Library as a global legal research center that holds a collection reflective of the diverse nation that it serves.

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

I am a distant relative of Babe Ruth.  However, I certainly do not share Mr. Ruth’s ability to hit a baseball or, thankfully, his appetite for destructive activities.

3 Comments

  1. Christine Turner
    February 3, 2011 at 12:34 am

    Well written and informative post. I enjoyed hearing what you do, and the services that the law library offers. I work at a public library in the Children’s Department.

  2. Deirdre Trotter
    February 5, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    I am writing a paper on the Law Library of Congress for my Law Library Management course at the University of North Texas. I was so excited to see your blog posting as it will definitely give me some personalized information to add to my report. Thanks, Deirdre Trotter

  3. Uwe Beltz
    December 3, 2012 at 10:52 am

    Read about Matt Braun’s favorite case – from a LOC update email today on “What is your favorite Case, Part 1″. Lead me to his profile.

    I learned a little more about you Matt. As a fellow graduate of UNC (SILS) and the awesome UNC Graduate Assistant program I heard great things about you. Learned they were all true when we met in person at conferences and appreciate you greatly. Anyone who receives assistance from Matt Braun will be well served!

    Also, appreciate all you and the LOC are doing to make information available to “the public.”

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