Meet Pamela Howard-Reguindin, Director of the Library of Congress field office in Nairobi, Kenya. Pamela and her staff collect most of the materials that Law Library staff as well as our patrons use to conduct research on various African jurisdictions. We are very grateful to them!
Describe your background.
San Diego, California is my home town — born and raised. Brownies, Girl Scouts, Job’s Daughters, tap and Scottish dancing, camping trips, and volunteer work were big influences in my youth. And a year-long trip to Europe on a sub-shoestring budget in the 1960s transformed me from a goofy California pre-teen into a budding global citizen.
What is your academic/professional history?
Before joining the Library of Congress Rio de Janeiro office, I worked in Brazil as a regional library officer with the U.S. Information Agency (USIA). By 1995/96, USIA was in the process of being abolished so I jumped ship when the Library offered me the field director position in Rio. Prior to that I happily worked as a librarian in reference, cataloging, and acquisitions at several universities, including UCLA, Tulane, UC San Diego, and Arizona State University.
When I applied to library school at UC Berkeley in the mid-1970s I got absolutely the best rejection letter anyone could hope to get. Given my background in Latin American Studies, the Berkeley powers-that-be knew that I’d be better served by attending the UCLA graduate program since I could get two masters’ degrees for the price of one. They even forwarded my paperwork and set up appointments with the Admissions Office! The result was an M.L.I.S. and an M.A. in Latin American Studies from UCLA. That second M.A. made all the difference in getting interesting, spot-on jobs. I am eternally grateful to that UCB admissions/rejection officer!
How would you describe your job to other people?
I frequently describe this job as one of the most awesome gigs a librarian could ever hope to have! We travel to large and small countries gathering books, journals, newspapers, gazettes and more for current and future scholarly use. Once collected, we catalog and ship the materials to the Library of Congress, the National Library of Medicine, and over 30 major university libraries (some overseas offices ship to even more university libraries than we do). We deal mostly with the print and other tangible formatted materials but are moving towards collecting born-digital materials as best we can.
Why did you want to work at the Library of Congress?
It’s a bit odd, but I’ve never actually worked AT the Library of Congress. I’ve worked FOR the Library of Congress in two overseas offices but not at the Library in Washington, DC. Since I was twelve and experienced my first trip to Europe I had always wanted to work professionally overseas. The first time I applied for the Library of Congress Rio office they must have LOL’d at my application. Fresh out of library school how could I have possibly been qualified to head an office?! Fifteen years and a dozen short term overseas stints later I guess they entertained my application a bit more seriously! I love Brazil and working in the Library of Congress Rio office was a dream come true. Not only did it mesh with my academic background of Brazilian studies and Portuguese, it was in one of the most marvelous, playful cities of the world. The opportunity to explore Kenya and other African countries was irresistible so we moved to Nairobi when a vacancy opened.
Representing the Library of Congress overseas is a heady experience for any librarian. I am often amazed at the wide eyes of international scholars when I tell them I work for the Library. They immediately “get” what we do, why it’s important and are so very appreciative of the Library’s vast collection. When I got the Rio position my husband quipped that working at Library of Congress was for a librarian like being in the Super Bowl for a football player, but I got to be there EVERY day! I couldn’t agree with him more!
What is the most interesting fact you have learned about the Law Library of Congress?
I would have to say that the collection of national gazettes is most interesting to me. Until I came to the Nairobi office I was unaware of the Law Library‘s vast collection of gazettes. We work very hard to make sure that the Law Library’s gazette collection is complete and to fill any gaps. It sometimes feels like a Sisyphean effort to claim missing issues each year from so many countries. We realize that the Law Library may be the only other library outside of a given country to have these important documents, most of which are not available online, so we make it a priority to acquire them.
What is something most of your co-workers do not know about you?
They might know that Carnaval is my most favorite world holiday celebration (and I’m not even Catholic!) but are probably unaware that I paraded twice in the Rio Sambadrome with the Salgueiro Samba School. More recently, I climbed Mount Kenya, the second highest peak in Africa.
I was so pleased to read this interview. I’ve consider myself very lucky to had the opportunity to work with Pamela and visit her at her Rio office. Her work while at the Rio Office, was of enormous reponsibility and help to accademic libraries in the U.S. The University of Illinois Library at Urbana-Champaign was among them. All the colleagues that visited her in Rio, remember her warm hospitality and the un forgettable moments spent with her. Could I visit her in Narobi? I doubt it,but I am so happy to see her continued successful career.