This week’s interview is with Robert Newlen. He is the Assistant Law Librarian for Collections, Outreach, and Services. Robert is an active participant on our blog. He reviews items before posting. Robert has been extremely busy leading up to this week coordinating the Wickersham Award Ceremony.
Describe your background.
I am a third generation Washingtonian (although I now live in Virginia). I was born in old Sibley Hospital which was torn down long ago. I have spent my entire career at the Library of Congress, most of it with the Congressional Research Service. In August, 2010, I came to the Law Library of Congress as Assistant Law Librarian for Collections, Outreach, and Services.
What is your academic/professional history?
I received a B.A. in French and political science from Bridgewater College, an M.A. in art history with a concentration in 19th & 20th century painting from American University, and an M.L.S. from Catholic University. When I started at the Library in 1975 with CRS, I was a clerk/typist. I actually spent much of my time delivering requests all over the Thomas Jefferson Building – this experience has served me well throughout my career as I know every nook and cranny in the building.
Next I worked as an Inquiry Recorder taking telephone requests from Members of Congress and congressional staff (pre-email) which brought me into contact with CRS librarians. I really enjoyed this experience and my supervisor at the time, Nancy Davenport, encouraged me to go to library school. I then headed the CRS research facility in the Russell Senate Office Building which was probably one of my most favorite jobs; it was very exciting to work in the heart of the Senate. Eventually I headed CRS’s Legislative Relations Office and then became Assistant Director of the Knowledge Services Group, CRS. I also became active in the American Library Association (ALA) and served as member of the executive board and was chair of the ALA Endowment trustees.
How would you describe your job to other people?
Extremely varied and fascinating. In the past several months, I have been involved with a number of exciting projects – a Brazil-U.S. Judicial Dialogue which we co-sponsored with the Wilson Center and included Supreme Court justices from Brazil, and the Wickersham Award event which honored the Honorable Justice John Paul Stevens. I have also enjoyed working with donors such as William C. Burton, who recently received the Blackstone Award; Dwight D. and Julie Chrystyn Opperman, who made possible the recent acquisition of the Casus breves; and Frederic R. and Molly S. Kellogg who have endowed the Kellogg Lecture in Jurisprudence at the Library of Congress. It is also very energizing to work with Law Library staff who bring so many different experiences and expertise to bear on our work.
Why did you want to work at the Law Library of Congress?
I was very inspired by the vision for the Law Library created by Roberta I. Shaffer, Law Librarian of Congress. One of her goals is to increase awareness in the global legal community about our world class collections and staff . Her highest priority has been to ensure that the Congress, our number one client, is aware of our services and I thought this was one area where I could help since I have done similar work for CRS.
What is the most interesting fact you’ve learned about the Law Library of Congress?
Even though I had worked with librarians in the Law Library in my position with CRS, I had no idea of the breadth and depth of the expertise of the staff here.
What’s something most of your co-workers do not know about you?
I am a compulsive collector of antiques and assorted junk. I regularly prowl antique shops and thrift stores and love to explore them when I travel. One of my favorite collections is of work by the industrial designer Russel Wright. I also spent a good deal of time in my twenties hanging out at the Mobili gallery in Adams Morgan which featured mid-century modern glass and ceramics. The owner taught me a great deal and I started my own modest collection of mid-century work. My favorite designers of this period are Charles and Ray Eames.
One of my most prized pieces is a universal splint which they designed for the U.S. Army in 1942.