The following is a guest post from Pamela Barnes Craig, retiring Instruction/Reference Librarian in the Law Library of Congress.
Describe what you do at the Library of Congress and the materials you work with.
My title is Instruction/Reference Librarian in the Law Library, and it describes pretty much what I do. My primary responsibility is answering questions about legislation, the legislative process, and the legal aspects of a variety of topics. I teach the same subjects to a variety of audiences both in-person classes and webinars. Additionally, I teach how to conduct legal research. Doing legal research is different from other subject areas for several reasons. One important piece is most legal publications, like laws and court cases, are published in chronological order. I teach researchers how to use the digests and codes to find the citation numbers for the legal materials they are seeking.
I work with legal and legislative materials, like federal and state laws, court cases, administrative regulations, and congressional documents. These materials date from the earliest periods of law-making to the present. Fortunately, I get to talk to students, researchers, lawyers, and others about these materials and where they can be found in sources and formats. Although many legal materials have been digitized, there are so many more valuable sources that have not been digitized and can only be found in books. Interestingly, the Law Library has an extensive collection of books on law written for students; they are classed under juvenile literature. I often recommend these to researchers because they provide basic information about the legal topic and provide a foundation on which they can build with more complex sources.
Do you have a favorite item from the Library’s online collections?
Yes, I have a couple of favorite items in the Library’s online collections. The first one is A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U. S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 – 1875. I often show teachers this website because it provides the documents from the early history of law-making in this country. There is so much speculation and misinformation about the founding of the United States of America on the Internet; it is great to be able to read the actual words of the people who set the foundation for this nation. A Century of Lawmaking also provides a wonderful platform for comparison of topics – then and now. Some of my favorite topics to compare are piracy (then) – terrorism (now) and naturalization (then – 1790) and immigration (now).
Another favorite from the Library’s online collections is American Women – A Gateway to the Library of Congress Resources for the Study of Women’s History and Culture in the United States. This resource provides sources on women from over ten subject areas based on the various reading rooms at the Library of Congress, like Newspapers and Current Periodicals, Prints and Photographs, Manuscripts, and Rare books. Of course, law is included; in fact, I wrote the chapter. It is amazing that, historically, women were a major part of the law, yet not part of the law-making process.
Share a time when an item from the collections sparked your curiosity.
Oh my, this is difficult. My curiosity is always sparked by an item in the collections, a question from a researcher, or the knowledge researchers bring while doing their research. While researching American Women, I discovered that the state laws pertaining to married women (femes covert) and single women (femes sole) varied a great deal during the colonial period of the United States of America. The differentiation was largely based on whether the colony wanted to emulate British law or break away from it. I was so fascinated by the legal history of women during this period of time that I have continued to research the property and employment rights of women through the ages. For example, single women in some states could own and convey (sell) real property while married women could not. Married women in those same states needed the permission of their husbands to convey real property.
Tell us about a memorable interaction with a K-12 teacher or student.
The most memorable was my interaction with high school librarians in Fairfax County Virginia. I did a demonstration of Congress.gov for their continuing education series, so all the high schools were represented. Each librarian had a laptop and followed along. Of course, as they followed me, they discovered areas on the site that I did not point out. Periodically, I would hear, “Oh, look at this. . .I can use this when. . . .” or “Where did you say that was?” It was so exhilarating; I didn’t want the session to end. It was one of those times when you’re on and your “students” are on. . .it’s just electric! I was a high school English teacher, so I know how special those moments are. I left knowing that the librarians were excited, and they would pass that excitement on to their teachers and students.
What’s one thing you’d like to tell teachers about the materials that you work with?
Legal and legislative materials are not always easy to work with or understand, but they are worth the time and effort to explore. I would say fascinating to explore, but not everyone would agree. They provide a platform for historical comparisons of laws, the thinking of our lawmakers and those they represented, and knowledge for an informed citizenry in the future.