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Honoring the Life of Margaret Wood

This blog post was co-authored by Jim Martin and Jennifer González, with input from current and former colleagues in the Library of Congress.

The Law Library is sad to report the passing of Margaret Wood, Senior Legal Reference Librarian, who worked for nearly 17 years at the Library of Congress. Margaret provided research and reference assistance, oversaw the collections in the Law Library Reading Room, and was a champion of this blog.

Margaret wood in a blue shirt and blue cardigan and a long, blurred hallway with lights in the background.

Margaret Wood. Photo by Shawn Miller.

Margaret received a B.A. from Oberlin College and her M.S.L.S. from the Catholic University of America. Margaret previously ran the law library at the U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters in southwest Washington and, prior to that, she spent several years working as a cataloger.

Margaret was one of our most prolific bloggers, publishing 195 blog posts about U.S. legislative procedure, life on the reference desk, commemorative days and months, and her passion for the intersection of the common law and English literature. She served as editor for countless blog posts and was one of the founding members of the blog team. She shared her expertise with the interns and volunteers in the Creative Digital Publications program through guidance documents, advice, and many webinar presentations.

Beyond the blog, Margaret’s influence was felt in a number of ways. She worked directly on Congress.gov as a subject matter expert and devoted champion of providing public access to legal information. She taught in the division’s bibliography instruction program, explaining how to conduct basic legal research with online and print sources. She gave tours to interested individuals. She helped to keep the reading room running and was an integral part of the renovation, ensuring there was no disruption in service while the work was accomplished. She was a walking catalog of the reading room’s print collection. She responded with patience, tact, and humor to thousands of inquiries, always willing to put in extra effort to ensure that she guided patrons to the correct resources. She worked with employees from other divisions of the Library on joint projects, and was particularly proud of her work as a co-curator for the Drawing Justice: The Art of Courtroom Illustrations exhibit.

As a colleague and friend, her pride in mentoring new librarians and enthusiasm for helping students was contagious. Margaret liked to provide the staff with baked goods and was always eager to celebrate the accomplishments of her colleagues. She successfully advanced the mission of providing the Library’s best possible services and message to the world. We are all richer for her dedication, Her expertise, sense of humor, and good nature will be very much missed by our patrons and staff alike.

The best way we thought of to remember Margaret was to ask her colleagues about her impact on the Law Library of Congress and on their lives, both professionally and personally.

Aslihan Bulut, Law Librarian of Congress:

Margaret had this amazing passion for law librarianship, for the Public Services Division and her colleagues, and for the Law Library. She cared deeply about the Law Library community and our patrons, and she was always ready to offer exemplary services to all who needed it – and she led by example.

We will greatly miss her warmth, wit, and intelligence, her cheerful and open attitude, her incredible strength and energy, and her self-deprecating sense of humor. And just her generosity overall.

For us in the Law Library, one of the ways to honor Margaret’s legacy is to continue doing what she loved the most – sharing legal knowledge and providing legal assistance, and making sure our collections and services are readily accessible at any moment.

Beth Osborne, chief, Public Services Division:

Margaret Wood standing behind a desk in an orange sweater, talking to a child and adult in the main reading room open house.

Behind the desk from left to right, Margaret Wood, Geraldine Dávila González and Mirela Savic-Fleming at the 2018 Columbus Day Open House. Photo by Shawn Miller.

Besides being a fantastic law librarian, Margaret had a great sense of style and was known for her work wardrobe. She was also quick with a compliment whenever someone else arrived at work in a nice outfit or new haircut. In a world of blacks, grays, and browns, Margaret was a fuchsia.

Robert Brammer, chief, Law Library of Congress Office of External Relations:

I will always remember Margaret for her sense of humor and how dedicated she was to her work. Margaret was an integral part of the renovation of our reading room, which was complex, since it involved relocating a large amount of materials and ensuring there was no disruption in service for our patrons. Margaret was also fearless. She was scheduled to be interviewed by the punk rock singer Henry Rollins for a television show on the topic of flag law. I showed her the video for his song, “Liar” where he is running around screaming and painted bright red. She was not intimidated in the least.

Tina Gheen, chief, Digital Resources Division:

It is difficult to pick a single favorite memory of Margaret Wood. There are just too many. She was a vibrant, energetic colleague, a good friend, and an excellent librarian who was very, very good at her job. Almost all of my favorite memories of Margaret involve her quirky laugh (which caused me to smile when I heard it), her absolute, unwavering stubbornness when discussing things that were important to her (easier to move a boulder than sway Margaret most days), and her fathomless knowledge of all things related to law. And homemade cookies. That woman could bake. The Law Library will not be the same without Margaret, and I already miss her presence so very much.

Jennifer Davis, collection manager, Global Legal Collections Directorate:

Margaret was a great colleague; she was passionate about her work. She was good to her coworkers, and was available to answer questions and provide recommendations and advice, some of it irreverent, which made it more hilarious even while it was useful. She was committed to the work of the Law Library, and she was so proud of her New Mexican roots. I will miss talking about New Mexico with her.

Alexander Salopek, collection specialist, Global Legal Collections Directorate:

Margaret’s passion for librarianship came through for her love of reference and her engagement with mentoring younger librarians. Her sharp wit was always able to make an exchange full of laughter. I especially will remember fondly her love of sharing her baked goods–it was always a treat to receive that email.

John Cannan, former colleague and current librarian at Villanova University:

Three-layer chocolate cake, mostly eaten with a used serving utensil in the foreground.

Chocolate cake baked by Margaret. Photo by Andrew Weber.

She was giving in knowledge and baked goods and asked for nothing in return but a better place.

Andrew Weber, product owner, Congress.gov:

Margaret was a passionate advocate for the constituent users of Congress.gov. She was so excited to announce the Congress.gov API, which was a much requested feature. Margaret was also an amazing baker with her chocolate shortbread recipe my absolute favorite. She was a very supportive co-worker, but also a friend. She would occasionally bake to celebrate work and personal events and milestones like this cake for a running milestone that we got to share with blog team.

Jennifer Manning, research librarian, Congressional Research Service:

The thing that I will always remember the most about Margaret is how fiercely she loved and advocated for Law Library of Congress patrons and Congress.gov public users. If a Congress.gov user encountered a problem, Margaret would make sure it was fixed—and she wasn’t afraid of anyone or anything standing in her way.

Amy Swantner, specialist in legislative info systems management, Congressional Research Service:

Margaret Wood was a joy to work with.  Any meeting she attended was sure to be lively.  She had a real passion for making Congress.gov easy to use for all users, advocating for new features based on real-world examples. Margaret was very kind and always stopped me in the hallway or cafeteria to ask how things were going.  I will remember her fondly and miss her greatly.

Rohit Gupta, systems architect, Congress.gov:

I loved working with Margaret over the years through her involvement with Congress.gov as a subject matter expert. She truly loved sharing what she knew. Most recently, I worked with her on migrating Century of Lawmaking bills content into Congress.gov, and she was able to offer some real detailed insights on how bills from the early years sort of followed no standards. We had fascinating discussions on how bill numbers were re-used in the same Congress in those early years, and one member of Congress used a half bill number to get his bill listed off other people’s bill numbers. I loved how she thought that as a techie, I was so involved in the actual legislative process from those years. She mentioned that to me a few times. She will be missed.

William Mahannah, librarian, Public Services Division:

Margaret Wood placing a law book on the shelves.

Margaret Wood shelving books in the Law Library Reading Room. Photo by Mirela Savic-Fleming.

For nearly 20 years, Margaret Wood was the social center of the Law Library of Congress. She frequently brought home-made baked goods as well as other wonderful “things-to-eat” for the Law Library staff. This activity was voluntary and it arose from the kindness in Margaret’s heart. While Margaret was a great law librarian, she also was a unique, generous person. Without doubt Margaret will be honored, remembered, and truly missed by the many Library of Congress people who had the very real pleasure of knowing her.

Sara W. Duke, curator, Popular & Applied Graphic Art, Prints & Photographs Division:

Margaret Wood was assigned to work with me on the Drawing Justice: The Art of Courtroom Illustration exhibition in 2016, and immediately became a co-curator and incalculably important as a team member. One of my fondest memories is the day we spent looking at the Chicago Seven trial drawings by Howard Brodie. You take one of the most socially conservative elements of American society – the courtroom – and throw in a bunch of Yippies and hippies – chaos ensued. Because no one behaved well, including Judge Julius Hoffman, the appeal reads like a minute-by-minute account of that courtroom chaos. However, there as an instance when Abbie Hoffman brought a North Vietnamese flag into the courtroom for Moratorium Day that did not make it into the appellate record. Margaret taught me to rely on newspaper reporting, and so we know exactly when the event occurred. For years, it amused her that an outrageous action drawn by the artist was left out of the appeal. She made me a better curator of my collections, with the tools I need to help researchers understand the background to the images they see. In the years since we co-curated the exhibition, we often exchanged emails about current trials and their depiction by artists. I will miss her enthusiasm, her willingness to dive deep into research, her pointed opinions, and her infectious sense of humor about it all.

Janice Hyde, former director of the Global Legal Collection Directorate:

Margaret was a science fiction enthusiast, an interest I shared with her. She was a Trekkie, as well as a fan of the Star Wars franchise. In Star Wars lore (according to The Complete Star Wars Encyclopedia), the Force “bestows great knowledge,” and enables one to “perform amazing feats, and accomplish what would otherwise be impossible.” Clearly, the Force was strong with Margaret, and the universe is a benighted place without her.

Olivia Kane-Cruz, Librarian-In-Residence:

Margaret Wood facing left looking at a computer on the desk.

Margaret Wood working at the Law Library Reading Room Reference Desk. Photo by Mirela Savic-Fleming.

I only had a chance to work with Margaret for a short time, however she left a lasting impression. She was a fierce defender of the law library’s collection. I remember observing her and another librarian weeding the ready reference materials in a language only they understood. She also knew everything there was to know about the reading room, even down to which chair each librarian preferred to sit in at the reference desk. She shared with me her knowledge about the library’s collection, how to develop strong legal research skills, and, most importantly, how to dress fashionably for the cold library climate.

Sarah Friedman, Presidential Management Fellow:

When I first started at the Library a few months ago, Margaret gave me a tour of the reading room and I asked her if we could go to the subbasement so that I could see the stacks. She brought me downstairs and started explaining the various items that are in the collection. I turned around to look at something and, when I turned back to Margaret, she had jumped into the stacks. She explained, while standing on the lower shelves and hanging onto the upper shelves, that this is how they used to retrieve books from higher shelves, because it was too much trouble to try to find a step ladder. She also declared that she wasn’t supposed to be doing this. That moment is how I’ll always remember Margaret. She was knowledgeable, honest, funny, and she played by her own rules. It was a privilege getting to learn from such a talented librarian.

Donna Sokol, program management specialist, Internship & Fellowship Programs Section

Margaret was our blog approver starting in 2014, which means she read and approved for publication hundreds of the posts that you’ve read on In Custodia Legis. The breadth and depth of her knowledge about law librarianship and the history of law were astounding (I specifically remember learning the term and history of cloture from Margaret), and she contributed great insight into each blog post that she reviewed. We, on the blog team, always looked forward to our meetings, where Margaret would treat us to her latest batch of baked goods. Margaret melded her love for baking and the law by writing a post on Baking at the Capitol.

Matthew Braun, former colleague (2009-2014) and current senior associate director for administration at the University of Illinois College of Law:

Margaret was a force in my life. She was my mentor at the Library of Congress and she was my dear friend. She taught me how to effectively work that busy and sometimes unpredictable reference desk on the second floor of the Madison Building. She showed me what it meant to care about the public and to represent the most special library in the world with grace and equanimity. My indelible memories of her energetically serving in the Law Library Reading Room will direct my path forward as a librarian, as a professional, and as a person.

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