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An Interview with David Mao, Deputy Law Librarian of Congress

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This week’s interview is with David Mao, Deputy Law Librarian of Congress.

Describe your background.

I have been the Deputy Law Librarian of Congress since June 2010.  I was born in New York City, but raised in New Jersey (about 15 miles from Exit 8).  Although I’ve lived in the DC metropolitan area for more than 25 years, when people ask where I’m from I still say the great Garden State.  I also have spent some time living in China so I speak Chinese with near fluency.

What is your academic/professional history?A headshot of David Mao with part of a map of the world in the background.

During my first year of law school, I was given a research problem as part of my legal research and writing class; I had no idea where to begin.  I went to the law library’s reference desk and asked a librarian for help.  The law librarian patiently listened to my questions, helped clarify my confusion with the sources, and then left the desk to guide me to the correct area of the stacks.  He not only helped me find what I needed, but also demonstrated how to use the sources correctly and effectively.  Thus began my appreciation and respect for law librarianship.

During my second and third years of law school, I worked as a student aide in the library.  I really enjoyed working in the library.  When graduation neared, I consulted with two of the librarians about a possible career in law librarianship.  Of course, I was advised that I would need to complete a library degree in order to attain a professional librarian position.  Deciding to be fiscally prudent, I took a slight detour from my path towards librarianship — for the next several years, I toiled for a large law firm, working on general commercial litigation matters (primarily products liability).  A chance reunion with one of my Georgetown Law co-workers presented me with the opportunity to work in a library again.  I decided to take the opportunity and thereafter applied to library school at Catholic University.

A year later, I applied for and was given a position as legislative librarian for the law firm of Covington & Burling.  I tracked and monitored current federal legislation, provided in-depth research on historical legislation and also compiled and prepared legislative histories.  I also continued my studies and received my library science degree.  After almost eight years at Covington in various positions, including managing research and conflicts, I moved to the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress.  Five years later I came to the Law Library.  Luckily, I didn’t have to move very far — just about 50 yards down the hall in the Madison Building.

How would you describe your job to other people?

I tell people that I work with the foreign law specialists, legal research, and legal information analysts at the Law Library.  The team provides foreign and comparative legal research and reference services to Congress, the Executive and Judicial branches, and the general public.  Usually, the first response I get is, “Wow, I didn’t know the Law Library did that!”

Why did you want to work at the Law Library?

Who wouldn’t want to work at the largest and most comprehensive law library in the world?  Seriously, I was really attracted to being a part of a team that was not only unique (i.e., foreign and comparative research) but also creative and farsighted (e.g., digital initiatives).

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

One of the most interesting facts I have learned is the span of the Law Library’s collection, from ancient Roman materials to the most current publications, domestic and foreign.  In addition, the Law Library continues to maintain comprehensive collections in the vernacular for most of the jurisdictions in the world.

What’s something most of your co-workers do not know about you?

I wish I could say I play the cello — I’ve always wanted to learn how — but I don’t.  I have, however, had quite a few years of musical instrument training, in the piano, the violin, and even (for a brief stint in college) the pipe organ.

Comments (11)

  1. Define “15 miles off of Exit 8” – I live off of Exit 8 right now, so I’m guessing…West Windsor? Plainsboro? Robbinsvile? East Windsor? Monroe Township?

    (Proud Resident of East Windsor/Twin Rivers since 2007)

  2. Lawrenceville.

  3. I remember when you started at Covington, David. And look where you are now! Great to read this interview and know you are well. Best of luck!
    Lisa McAvoy

  4. I am new to the LOC web site and so far I have enjoyed all my searches and inquiries. This interview with Mr. David Mao was outstanding and shows the quality of the personnel within the LOC. Thanks.

  5. David, congratulations on becoming the new Law Librariam of Congress! Happy new year and also happy Chinese new year to you and your family.

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