This is an interview with Donna L. Sokol, Outreach Specialist at the Law Library of Congress, on a detail assignment from the Visitor Services Office of the Library of Congress. Enjoy!
Describe your background
I grew up in the United States Air Force and cannot call any city my hometown, but I was lucky to spend my childhood in some interesting places around the United States and the world, including the Philippines, Hawaii, Delaware, North Carolina, Illinois, and Japan.
What is your academic/professional history?
I studied Russian and East European Studies and Geography at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Studying Russia and Eastern Europe was my way of making sense of the other half of the world, that forbidden half (in the eyes of a Cold War kid). Geography was a logical second major for me as we had moved around the United States and world my entire life.
After graduation, I lived for two years in Japan, teaching English and traveling. I attended the School of Information (SI) at the University of Michigan (UM) in Ann Arbor and received my Masters of Science in Information (MSI) as part of SI’s inaugural graduating class. I developed a tailored major in conjunction with UM’s School of Education, focusing on Distance Education and Technologies. While at Michigan, I was Head Librarian for the Benzinger Library, the largest of the residence hall libraries.
After working for a few years, I completed a Certificate in Legal Studies at Georgetown University, ostensibly for fun but also to see whether I might pursue law as a profession. I returned to the Library of Congress in 2003 (my first exposure to the Library of Congress was in 1994 in which I spent a summer as a Junior Fellow in the Geography & Map Division) and worked with the Open World Leadership Center, World Digital Library, and the Professional Visitors Program at the Visitor Services Office. All three jobs involved working closely with the Library’s international partners and visitors.
How would you describe your job to other people?
I am fairly new to the Law Library of Congress but part of my duties include coordinating the visits of our international guests. The Law Library attracts more and more people from around the world who not only want to use its collections but meet with its experts. I connect the visitors with the experts at the Law Library.
Why did you want to work at the Library of Congress?
I have worked in libraries since I was 12. In seventh grade, I started work at the nurse’s office. My first day, in the span of 50 minutes, two kids were taken away by ambulance for different health reasons. The excitement was too much for me, and I asked to be transferred after that one day! They placed me in the library, and that’s where I’ve felt most comfortable ever since.
In my second year of college, I saw a poster advertising the Junior Fellows Program at the Library of Congress. To my disappointment, the deadline for applications had already passed. I quietly unpinned the poster from the bulletin board and taped it up in my room; it became my goal to make it to the Library. The following year, I became a Junior Fellow in the Geography & Map Division and worked on a collection of 55,000 Russian maps from World War II.
I think many who find librarianship their calling want to at least visit the Library of Congress. Those of us who get to work here feel very fortunate to do so.
What is the most interesting fact you’ve learned about the Law Library and/or the Library of Congress?
I shall never tire of seeing beautiful manuscript works. In one of my first days on the job, I got the chance to see a fourteenth century manuscript, The Institutes of Jusitinian, from the Law Library’s collection. It is at the same time thrilling and humbling to know that I work for a library that is the protector of the world’s legal treasures.
What’s something most of your co-workers do not know about you?
I founded the Capitol Hill Writers Group to encourage and support writers’ passion for creative writing. We meet every two weeks to read and critique each others’ works. The Group keeps me accountable to hitting milestones for my current project: a historical novel set in the 13th Century.