This week’s interview is with Hope O’Keeffe. Hope works in the Office of General Counsel of the Library of Congress. There are many attorneys who work in the Library of Congress who work outside of the Law Library. Among other duties, she helps work out agreements so we can use social media like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
I was raised in a Navy family, moving up and down the East Coast and Gulf Coast in a series of Navy towns that pretty much had only two other things in common — they all had beaches, and they all had public libraries. This led to my always having a sunburnt nose in a library book. My husband and two sons will tell you that hasn’t changed in the least.
What is your academic/professional history?
I graduated from Amherst College with a degree in economics, and then moved down to DC to change the world. I answered an ad in the Post for “Feminist/Activist,” worked for women’s organizations as a fundraiser for a few years, took a class called “What do you want to be when you grow up,” and promptly signed up for the LSAT. I went to George Washington University Law School, and spent a good chunk of time at the Law Library doing research. After law school, I clerked for Chief Judge Spottswood W. Robinson, III on the D.C. Circuit, then worked for a small labor law firm, Bredhoff & Kaiser, and then a D.C. megafirm, Arnold & Porter. From A&P I joined the National Endowment for the Arts and stayed there 13 years, initially in the Office of General Counsel and for the last few years on the program side in the Office of National Initiatives. I came to the Library as Associate General Counsel in November 2006.
How would you describe your job to other people?
Best legal job on the planet, especially for a right-brained lawyer. I’m in charge of all the legal issues involving Library collections — and no, that doesn’t mean collecting overdue fines. I spend my time facilitating the acquisition of extraordinary things, and helping to make them broadly accessible, including online and through social media.
Why did you want to work at the Library of Congress?
What nerd wouldn’t? Incredible mission, very smart colleagues who care about what they do, challenging, cutting-edge work — I’ve hit the trifecta. Plus, the only people who get to check out books are members of Congress, the Supreme Court, and the President and Vice President. And Library employees. It’s the first thing I did when I started.
What is the most interesting fact you’ve learned about the Law Library and Library of Congress?
Even having worked around the Library of Congress for most of my legal career, I was still surprised at the incredible breadth of the collections: not just books and manuscripts, but photos, maps, sound recordings, film, video, and physical artifacts. And the Library’s real hidden treasure is the deep knowledge of those collections by people who work with them, preserving them, making them accessible, and telling their stories. That very much includes the Law Library folks, who are incredibly creative in the ways they’re getting the word out. We joke that we’re digitizing the collections and we really need to figure out how to digitize the knowledge of the staff as well. The Law Library’s leading the way on that.
What’s something most of your co-workers do not know about you?
I’m a belly dancer.