Today is a big day for the Law Library of Congress. David Mao is taking over as the Law Librarian of Congress from Roberta Shaffer. It wasn’t that long ago that he was appointed Deputy Law Librarian of Congress. Our avid In Custodia Legis readers might remember David from his interview or previous guest post on Rebellious Children and Witches.
As David starts his new position today, I thought it would be good to share some of his thoughts on the job. This interview was originally published in the Gazette, a weekly publication for Library of Congress staff.
What are the duties of the Law Librarian of Congress?
I see this position as part law librarian to Congress, part steward for the law collections, and part ambassador to the world’s legal and library communities.
The Law Library’s primary patron is Congress, so my responsibilities include leading the team that makes it possible for members to understand the laws and legal systems of other nations of the world.
Many legal researchers depend on us to collect, serve and maintain the materials that support our country’s commitment to the rule of law. My duties, therefore, will be to make it possible for the collections to remain comprehensive and in good condition to be able to serve researchers’ needs.
We are truly a global resource, and as Law Librarian, I will be ensuring that the products, services and expertise of the Law Library of Congress are well-promoted to law and library associations, members and staff of foreign parliaments and judiciaries, and practitioners of law.
How did you come to be in the profession of law librarianship?
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 was advised that I would need to complete a library degree in order to attain a professional law librarian position.
Deciding to be fiscally prudent, I took a slight detour from my path toward librarianship and worked as an associate in a large law firm.
Several years later, a chance reunion with one of my former law library colleagues presented me with the opportunity to work in a law library again.
I had the chance to work with a fine collection and learn firsthand from excellent law librarians. I also applied to library school and worked toward my library degree while working full time.
How did your previous experience prepare you for this job?
I have been serving as Deputy Law Librarian since June 2010, and that position brought me up close to the responsibilities and challenges of Law Librarian.
As deputy, I frequently represent the Law Library of Congress at high-level national and international conferences and meetings.
Having previously been on the front lines at a law library, I also know the challenges and sense of fulfillment that the Law Library’s Public Services Division experiences daily while working with researchers.
I’ve been at the Library of Congress since 2005. Before joining the Law Library, I was a section head at the Congressional Research Service, leading a team of information professionals serving the needs of Congress.
I like to joke that the total distance of my office moves in the Library amounts to about 50 yards.
What are your short- and long-term goals?
The Law Library issued its Strategic Plan for 2011–16, and, in the short term, I aim to continue the progress toward achieving the goals set out in that plan.
One of the major goals of the Law Library is the formation of the One World Law Library (OWLL). This will bring authoritative and authenticated global legal and legislative information from the Law Library of Congress and external sources under one domain and provide access to these resources in a seamless way for the researcher.
Another major initiative on the horizon is the redesign of the Law Library Reading Room. The space will be transformed into a 21st-century information center that will allow the Law Library to better serve all of its patrons.
What are some interesting facts you’ve learned about the Law Library?
One of the most interesting facts I’ve learned is that the Law Library holds the world’s most geographically comprehensive collections of foreign legal materials.
The physical and digital collections contain the earliest and the latest publications and reflect the legislative histories of past, current and future jurisdictions. It’s rather astounding to think that, even if a nation hasn’t yet been officially formed, the Law Library will have all the materials necessary for someone to create the legislative history of that nation once it comes into being.
Another fact I learned was that, in the 1800s, when the Law Library was still in the Capitol Building, it was reserved solely for the use of the Congress.
The Supreme Court of the United States was also housed in the Capitol, but the justices were not allowed to use the law collections! It took a joint resolution by both houses of Congress to reverse that rule in 1812.
We have such good working relationships with not only the Supreme Court but also the entire judicial branch (and, for that matter, the executive branch agencies) that barring them from our collections seems strange to me now.