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An Interview with Robert Gee, Chief of Law Library Public Services

This week’s interview is with Robert Gee, Chief of Law Library Public Services (and my immediate supervisor).

Describe your background.

I serve as Chief of Law Library Public Services, a position I have held for nearly 17 years.  I was hired as a temporary legal reference librarian almost 27 years ago (in 1984) to fill in for a librarian on maternity leave and was hired permanently a year later.  I was born and raised in a small community in northeastern Oklahoma (Miami) where  my mother continues to live.

What is your academic/professional history?

After graduating from Miami, Oklahoma High School, I attended Tulsa Junior College (now Tulsa Community College) where I received an Associate of Arts degree.  I moved to Norman, Oklahoma, to complete a bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of Oklahoma.  I became very active in student government, eventually serving as chief justice of the student court system.  Having been exposed to the law by two generations of lawyers (my father and his father), I decided to pursue my legal education at the University of Oklahoma College of Law and graduated from there in 1981.

I had interviewed for positions with a federal agency in Washington in 1980, and again in a regional office of that agency later that year.  I had been told that I would likely receive an offer from one of two regional offices or the Washington office.  As a result of policy changes, I learned that no offers would be made.  I was not sure what I wanted to do, but remained very interested in antitrust and trade regulation law.  I applied for several LL.M. programs and ultimately accepted the offer from the George Washington University.  I attended the program part-time while looking for work, and shortly after completing the degree, I was temporarily hired by the Law Library.

How would you describe your job to other people?

As the manager responsible for public services, my position has evolved as the nature of information services has changed. Initially, I was tasked with refining and expanding a traditional legal reference center during a time that the Law Library Reading Room was heavily used most of the hours we were open.  There were times that most all seats were taken.  I worked to introduce computer technology in the Reading Room, expand responsibilities of the operations beyond the core task of responding to questions so that staff were much more actively involved in collections work.  I also helped to expand the congressional teaching program and electronic reference services.  I describe to others that I am responsible for overseeing legal and legislative information services for Congress, the Federal courts, government agencies, the practicing bar and researchers throughout the world.

Why did you want to work at the Law Library?

After law school, I initially wanted to practice law, but did not find that as exciting as researching and possibly teaching.  I also thought I might enjoy working for a congressional committee.  When the temporary position was advertised, I applied for it thinking I might work here for a few months or possibly a year.  However, because of the influence by some very significant leaders in the law library profession, particularly Jenni Parrish and Lolly Gasaway (who is now a professor of law at the University of North Carolina, but formally was director of the law library at the University of Oklahoma during my law school days), I decided to work here.

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

I am fascinated with the evolution of the Law Library of Congress.  In the mid 1820′s there was no law library in Washington according to a note in a journal by the U.S. attorney for Pennsylvania.  That note followed by interest from others in creating a law library in Washington resulted in the 1832 law establishing the Law Library as a part of the Library of Congress.  The Law Library has evolved from a two-person operation in the 1830′s into a global legal information center.  Indeed, the Law Librarian of Congress served for a few years as the first director of the Legislative Reference Service (now the Congressional Research Service) beginning in 1914.

When I started, there was a law that provided for a law library in the Capitol which the Law Library of Congress was responsible for managing and staffing.  It was located in the attic of the Senate side of the Capitol and contained about 40,000 volumes.  The reference librarians were required to staff the Capitol law library on a rotational basis.  Every once in a while a Senator would wander in, but primarily House and Senate staff would use the facilities as a quiet place to concentrate while conducting research.  During the House Iran-Contra hearings, the committee’s general counsel often worked in the Capitol law library.  In 1987, the statute was repealed, and the Law Library was directed to remove its collections to the Madison Building within approximately two weeks.

One of the most interesting research projects with which I became involved was examining the history of the Senate’s confirmation process for Supreme Court justices.  Senator Paul Simon came into the Law Library in the Madison Building in the early 1990′s and asked for information on the Senate’s “advice and consent” powers.  That question resulted in a several-month research project during which I worked closely with him tracing the Senate process through interesting documents and hearings as he wrote a book entitled Advice and Consent:  Clarence Thomas, Robert Bork and the Intriguing History of the Supreme Court’s Nomination Battles which was published in 1992.

Another interesting project that I was assigned to lead is known as “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation.”  When the Librarian of Congress announced the National Digital Library project, the Law Library was asked to contribute a project.  I worked several weeks developing the proposals, one of which was the “Century” project.  Based on the fact that numerous researchers throughout the country were traveling to DC to research early congressional history and legislation, we proposed to digitize the laws, debates, bills, House & Senate Journals to facilitate research remotely.  The project implementation required seven staff members to be hired and assigned to the Law Library.  I convened an advisory board comprised of Congressional Research Service, Law Library, National Digital Library, Senate, House, and National Archives managers and senior staff who guided us in our planning and refinement of the project.  The project was well received, having been recognized by AALL in 1999 with the non-print publication award.  We were asked to showcase the project for the Advisory Committee on the Records of Congress, which responded with a strong endorsement and letter requesting the Library to add more content to the project.  This project was certainly one of the most rewarding efforts with which I was associated during my career.

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

I am fascinated by diverse cultures and the ways people live which is why I enjoy travel.  I do not travel as much as I would like, but usually try to travel to a few interesting places either inside or outside the U.S. each year.  I have mainly focused on South and Central America, although I have been to Europe a few times.

Although not very good, I have a passion for cooking (not baking).  On weekends, I spend considerable time testing recipe ideas on friends.  This is a far cry from several years ago when I was preparing a Thanksgiving dinner for my brother and me and had to ask our colleague Betty Lupinacci how to prepare a turkey – - and after her very detailed instructions, I cooked the turkey upside down.  It tasted good, but I did not position it in the pan properly!

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