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An Interview with Roberta Shaffer, Law Librarian of Congress

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Last week we kicked off our new Pic of the Week series to provide a visual glimpse inside the Law Library of Congress.  This week we’re beginning something else new – an interview series – to give you a feel of who works with us.  In deciding whom to interview first, there was a clear beginning.  Where better to start than at the top?  Roberta Shaffer is the Law Librarian of Congress.  She was appointed the 22nd Law Librarian of Congress in August, 2009.

Describe your background.

Roberta Shaffer standing outdoor with grass and part of a building in the background.
Roberta Shaffer, Law Librarian of Congress

Over the course of almost 35 years, I have served in nearly every sector of the library profession – academic, law, firm, non-profit, professional association, legal publishing, and state and federal government.

I like to claim Texas as my home state (if they will accept me!), but I have lived in Washington (both the state and District of Columbia), Louisiana, Georgia, and New York.  I love Arizona where I have a strong childhood connection and now a home.  In fact, I plan to retire to Tucson MANY years from now!  As a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar, I spent short stints in Israel and Portugal.

I understand French, but no longer claim to speak it.  However, I do get some practice at home since my husband is French-born, and we only speak in French to our Westie puppy; inspired by the children’s book McDuff Goes to School which we read to Lily as part of her obedience training!  I now have great hope of improving my foreign language skills by using Rosetta Stone since the entire Law Library staff has access to this resource as part of our training and development program.

What is your academic/professional history?


I am a graduate of Vassar College (AB), Emory University (MLS) and Tulane University (JD), and have a graduate certificate in Arts Management from American University. I’m admitted to the Texas, District of Columbia and U.S. Supreme Court bars.  I also have a Certificate in Negotiation from the Harvard Law School. I’ve been fortunate to be able to use this training as a pro bono mediator on a wide range of issues from local to global concerns.

Every one of my professional positions throughout the years has been very rewarding and I have learned things that have prepared me for my current role as Law Librarian of Congress.  My previous jobs included nine years as Director of Research Services at the Washington-based international law firm of Covington and Burling, Dean of the Library School at the University of Texas at Austin, and most recently as Executive Director of the Federal Library and Information Center Committee/Federal Library and Information Network at the Library of Congress, among others.

How do you describe your job to other people?


What I do here is think about, manage and plan for the present, but most importantly, for the future of the Law Library of Congress, and how we can successfully fulfill our mission in times of  reduced budgets and increased demand for our knowledge.  It surprises many people to realize that at the Law Library we are looking at the entire landscape of the laws of the world – in this case, PAST, present, and future.  Do you realize that our collections encompass over 240 jurisdictions?  We consider how this information will be acquired, accessed, organized, managed, mobilized, and preserved in an era of technological advances, changing expectations by our diverse constituencies, financial constraints, and globalization.  We need to be aware of the content of the law, its context, its consumers, and its containers — always mindful of authority, authenticity and accuracy.  We must also think about all these issues as part of the entire Library of Congress and the challenges that the Library faces in the 21st century.  One of the most exciting things about law is  that it is transdisciplinary–it is infused by and infuses all other disciplines.  Last, but not least, I am very focused on how our unique collections and services can best address the needs of our number one client, the U.S. Congress.

Why did you want to work at the Law Library of Congress?


To have the opportunity to make a difference.  The Library of Congress is a wonder of the world.  It is never boring, never static.  It is an organic entity.  One is always challenged to think carefully about how any decision of any magnitude might affect this marvel that mankind has created and that democracy has empowered.  And to fully respect the honor it is to be here on the inside safeguarding this unique asset owned by the American people and open to the world.

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


This comes as no surprise, but the Law Library is not only an incredibly unique collection, but it is also comprised of an amazingly talented cadre of staff.  From foreign legal specialists to legal reference librarians to collection specialists, to linguists, to technologists, to editors–the range of expertise and experience here is one of the hallmarks of the Law Library.

What’s something most of your co-workers don’t know about you?


I think most of my co-workers know that I love to swim and adore dogs.  But I started out as a young woman thinking I would be an art historian/lawyer and work for a big auction house – living part of the year in London!  At the same time I am fascinated by science and read about seven “pedestrian” scientific periodicals regularly.  My passion for science also finds me serving as the current President of the International Council for Scientific and Technical Information (ICSTI), a forum for interaction between organizations that create, disseminate and use scientific and technical information.  Finally, I can hardly boil water, but I love to read recipes and collect cookbooks.

Comments (22)

  1. Nice post!!

  2. Well done!

  3. An excellent overview of all the things Roberta has done but one article cannot cover the incredible range of projects she has handled and innovations she has made, wherever she goes. An outstanding person and librarian.

  4. Roberta Shaffer !
    Nice to see you !
    I am working at Can Tho University Learning Resource Center.
    Thanks for your information !
    Best Regards,

  5. What an awesome interview !

  6. I just love you guys 🙂
    keeping post!!!!!



  7. Wonderful to read this interview about you and the LoC, albeit belatedly. I’m sure many adventures await you.

    warmest regards,


  8. Looks like Mr Kenyon gave the right job to the right person.

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