This week’s interview is with Agnieszka “Aga” Pukniel, a Library Technician in our Collection Services Division.
Describe your background.
I was born in a nice little town near Gdansk, located by the Baltic Sea in Poland. I lived there till I was 19, when I moved to the United States. I spent four years in Chicago, where my mom still lives, and then I moved to the DC Area. After a brief trip back to Poland, I moved back to the DC area. I’ve been here since December 1998. I had the great pleasure to travel a lot, and I’ve been to 49 US states – still missing Hawaii. I currently work as a Library Technician in the Collection Services Division of the Law Library.
What is your academic/professional history?
I spent ten years working as a journalist, volunteering/working at the local Polish radio station in Chicago and then after moving to Washington, DC, working as a U.S. correspondent for the largest private radio station in Poland. A few years later, I became a freelancer and traveled a lot, driving around the United States to work on stories. Eventually I was ready to find a 9 to 5 job, and I was hired as a contractor working for the Law Library of Congress. Initially, I was supposed to work on material in which I could use my natural fluency in Polish and use my knowledge of the Russian language and Cyrillic alphabet, but quite soon I started working on other things. Now I work with many different materials involving different tasks. Recently I was hired as a permanent employee, joining the elite group of Library Technicians.
How would you describe your job to other people?
It’s not easy to explain to people from the outside what I do at the Library, so I usually just say I help to enter materials from all over the world into the Library of Congress computer system, re-locate materials between different divisions, and search for problem issues. My main duties are related to being a messenger: bringing and distributing materials coming to the Law Library from other divisions. I also process incoming receipts and sometimes work on problem issues.
Why did you want to work at the Law Library?
I’ve always liked challenges and different experiences and working at the Law Library provides both. It’s a constant learning process about the procedures, policies, and materials, different functions of legal publications, what “keep” decisions are based on, and how the cataloging system works. I could never be bored here. I’ve worked here for over six years, learned many things and still, everyday there is always something new I can learn. I also like the people I work with.
The other important thing is the collection itself. The amount of volumes, disparity, languages, the size of that “machine” of receiving and processing all the incoming materials always amazes me. Being part of that process is something I am very proud of and it’s not easy to find a job that one likes and is happy about, especially on Capitol Hill. It was so important to me, that during the last year’s blizzard I came to work every day to help maintain the collection in the closed stacks, where several leaks were spotted.
What is the most interesting fact you’ve learned about the Law Library?
There are many interesting things I’ve learned about the Library. The amount of material being preserved here is an amazing thing itself – in the case of some countries we have more materials than these countries themselves. All of it is available to the public, and I’m always impressed at how many people come here to use this material in the collection.
I recently learned that we provide legal information services referral to prisoners who write to the Law Library. The fact that all this material is available to the public, scholars, researchers and specialists seems very important to me. I also like that we exchange materials with other libraries.
I had a privilege to be part of the tour of Library of Congress off-site facility in Fort Meade and I was very impressed. The shelving area, its organization, and environmental conditions are state of the art.
I also got a chance to visit the Preservation Technologies facility in Cranberry, PA, near Pittsburgh, where the Library of Congress sends books for deacidification. I saw the process from start to finish and learned how big of an operation that is. I even got to dip my hand in the alkaline solution to see how it works and that it is not dangerous to the touch!
What’s something most of your co-workers do not know about you?
Very few people know I worked as a radio war correspondent for a radio station in Poland. I was twice in Kosovo during the war there. I was also three times on different U.S. aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf while covering the situation in Iraq in 1998 and in Iraq itself. I covered the World Trade Center bombing in New York for a TV station in Poland. I interviewed many famous people and heads of state, including President George W. Bush. These were some of the most interesting, thrilling, and sometimes horrifying but very memorable experiences in my life.