The following is a guest post by David Mao, Law Librarian of Congress. He has previously guest posted 2012 Burton Awards – Pic of the Week, Shreddy: From the Office of the Law Librarian – Pic of the Week, From the Desk of the Law Librarian, The Law Librarian in London, and Rebellious Children and Witches.
Earlier this year, I wrote about keys to the desk and credenza of former Law Librarian of Congress Carleton Kenyon. Recently I received a letter that again harkens back to Library of Congress history. As you can see from the picture below, the envelope is addressed to Professor Lewis Coffin at the Library of Congress. At first I thought there was an error as I did not immediately recognize the name. Looking more closely I realized that the letter was meant for Lewis C. Coffin who was the Law Librarian of Congress—almost fifty years ago! I decided to learn more about my predecessor who, by the way, passed away in 1987.
Mr. Coffin led the Law Library from 1964 until his retirement in 1971. According to the Annual Report of the Librarian of Congress for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1964, he had a long and distinguished career at the Library prior to his appointment as Law Librarian.
Another major appointment was that of Lewis C. Coffin as Law Librarian and General Counsel of the Library effective January 6, 1964. . . . A lawyer by training and a librarian by profession, Mr. Coffin came to the Library in 1931 as a member of the Card Division and served successively as Assistant Chief of the Union Catalog Division, Chief of the Exchange and Gift Division, Chief of the Order Division, Assistant Director and then Associate Director of the Processing Department.
During his time with the Law Library, Mr. Coffin actively supported the development of the Law Library of Congress collection and the classification for law materials (Class K). More importantly, he was known as one of the principal founders of the International Association of Law Libraries (IALL), and served the association as both president (1968-1971) and a member of the board of directors (1971-1974).
Today the association is known for its work in advancing the education of law librarians and other legal information professionals on foreign and international legal systems; supporting educational and professional opportunities for newer legal information professionals, especially those from developing nations; and encouraging the development of national and international legal information policies that promote free access to legal information on a worldwide basis.
Upon his retirement from the Library of Congress in 1971, then-Librarian of Congress L. Quincy Mumford noted, “Prominent in professional organizations of both lawyers and librarians, he has written numerous articles and has served as a consultant both in his country and abroad. His sly sense of humor, always a constant source of delight to his colleagues, enlivened many a discussion, and his long experience in the Library gave him a wide knowledge of its operations.”
Interestingly, Mr. Coffin’s title, like that of his predecessor William Lawrence Keitt, was Law Librarian and General Counsel. The Library of Congress officially created an Office of General Counsel in 1958; however, it was attached to the Law Library with the head of the department serving as both Law Librarian and General Counsel. The duties of the General Counsel at the time included providing legal assistance and advice to the Librarian of Congress on matters concerning Library operations. As the role of the Library in national and international programs expanded, the responsibilities of the Office of General Counsel increasingly involved all elements of the Library’s functions. Thus, in July 1970, the Library established the Office of the General Counsel as a separate unit attached to the Office of the Librarian of Congress, with John J. Kominski, formerly Assistant General Counsel, as the new General Counsel. Staffed with attorneys, the mission of the office today is to provide prompt and effective legal advice to Library management upon request and in anticipation of need. The office handles a wide variety of legal issues, including: contracts and procurement; personnel law and ethics; acquisitions, gifts, and trusts; intellectual property; lawful use of appropriated and non-appropriated funds; posting items in the collections on the Internet; and defense of the Library in administrative and federal court litigation.
So what was in the envelope? It was a letter from the International Association of Legal Science (Association Internationale des Sciences Juridiques) about its upcoming congress to be held in Mexico City in 2013.