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From the Desk of the Law Librarian of Congress

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The following is a guest post by David Mao, Law Librarian of Congress.  He has previously guest posted on Rebellious Children and Witches.  David has been previously interviewed in his role as the Deputy Law Librarian of Congress.

Moving into my new office, I came across two curious artifacts in a drawer: a pair of old keys. One of the keys had a tag labeled Mr. Kenyon’s Desk Key and the other a tag labeled Mr. Kenyon’s Credenza Key.

Mr. Kenyon's Keys

Mr. Kenyon, of course, refers to Carleton W. Kenyon who was Law Librarian of Congress from 1971-1989. The desk at which I’m sitting to type this post isn’t new, but it certainly isn’t 23-years old. I wonder what ever happened to that desk and credenza and what stories it could tell about the Law Library during Mr. Kenyon’s tenure.

Mr. Kenyon came to the Library of Congress in 1971 from a distinguished career as law librarian in California, having worked at places such as the Los Angeles County Law Library and the California State Law Library where he was the State Law Librarian. Mr. Kenyon had a particular interest in, worked on, and wrote about the need for classification of law books.

The Library of Congress began work on a classification system for its materials at the end of the 19th century. Early plans included the creation of a classification for law materials (“Class K”). The issue of classifying legal materials was not a new one and had been the subject of debate among law librarians for some time—there apparently were panel discussions on classifying legal treatises at early meetings of the American Association of Law Libraries.

The Library of Congress worked on developing a classification for law materials starting in the early 20th century; however, work on Class K did not begin in earnest at the Library until the 1950s. Important milestones during this decade included the publication of working papers on the classification of various world legal systems and jurisdictions.  Another important milestone was reached in 1960 with the publication of a draft schedule for KF for the law of the United States. A longtime proponent of classifying legal materials, Mr. Kenyon collaborated with the Library of Congress during the early 1960s in refining this schedule; at last in late 1967, the Library published a final draft of Class KF, Law of the United States, and the Law Library began assigning Class KF call numbers to American law publications.

Mr. Kenyon became the Law Librarian of Congress no doubt in part because of his tremendous work experience on the classification of legal materials. After becoming Law Librarian he continued to support the development of Class K and the Library of Congress released additional subclass schedules for law materials. But Mr. Kenyon’s work on and support of the classification of legal materials is not the only thing for which he should be remembered —as important, he is responsible for hiring Roberta Shaffer as his special assistant and starting her illustrious career at the Library of Congress!

If you are curious about the cataloging of legal materials, watch “Does this book go to law?

Comments (5)

  1. I don’t often do this but I was just taking a moment on this snowy day in Fairbanks, Alaska to search my father’s name, Carleton Kenyon. I was so thrilled to know that he is still remembered at the Library of Congress. I know nothing about the keys, but I certainly remember his career and knew he was highly respected. I have to add that he was a wonderful father to his three kids as well. (I am the youngest). Thank you Mr. Mao and hope you enjoy your term as law librarian!

    Kay Kenyon Barboza

  2. Thank you for this heartwarming story into the past. In the photo, the tag for the desk is in ‘Mr. Kenyon’s’ own hand printing.

  3. Thanks for your comments! If you ever find yourself in Washington, D.C., please stop by as we will be happy to show you around the Law Library–and the keys.

  4. Thanks! Will do. (I often find myself in DC visiting friends and places I used to know.)

  5. Well the keys desk key and cabnet key at the house as a copy.

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