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An Interview with Gabe Horchler

This week’s interview is with Gabe Horchler, section head of the Law Section of Library Services’ Acquisitions & Bibliographic Access Directorate, U.S. Programs, Law & Literature Division.  Gabe is in charge of cataloging all new law titles.  He and his staff have also been instrumental in helping with our reclassification project for which we are grateful!

DSC_0546Describe your background.

I was born in my mother’s ancestral village in Eastern Hungary. We fled Hungary in 1944, lived in Austria as “displaced persons” for six years, and then were able to emigrate to the United States. The Northeast corner of Philadelphia was my home until moving to DC to work for the Library of Congress.

What is your academic/professional history?

I have a BA in Economics from La Salle University, an MS in Library Service from Columbia University, and a MS in Economics from Penn State. I started my LC career in September of 1967 as a descriptive cataloger in the Romance Languages Section. In April of 1968, I was drafted into the Army, served for two years, and then returned to LC as a subject cataloger in the Social Sciences Section. I then took a leave of absence, and with the help of the GI Bill, earned an MS in Economics. For a while, I was torn between a career as a librarian or as an economist, but decided that working with books was more appealing than toiling in the field that Thomas Carlyle called “the dismal science.”  I have been at LC ever since, except for 2 years spent in Niger as a United Nations volunteer.  In 1985, I became head of the Social Sciences I Section of the Subject Cataloging Division, and after the “Whole book” reorganization of 1994, which combined subject and descriptive cataloging, I was designated the leader of the Business and Economics Team and then of the Law Team. As part of the reorganization of 2008, the Law Team became the Law Section.

How would you describe your job to other people?

When I try to describe my job to non-librarians, their eyes usually glaze over, but I find my work to be very rewarding.  Responsible for cataloging the materials that are assigned to the Law Library, the Law Section processed nearly 20,000 titles in 82 languages in Fiscal Year 2014. This workload covers a wide span of time and place. It runs the gamut from the most recent, cutting edge U.S. imprints which we catalog through the Cataloging in Publication Program before they are even published, to materials from the Library’s overseas offices, and to books from as early as the 16th century that are held by the Law Library but are not under bibliographic control. Dealing with such a large and varied workload requires a diverse, highly skilled, and productive staff, and when the members of the Law Section are unable to handle a particular language or format, they can turn for help to other specialists throughout the Library. There is probably no other institution in the world that has such a range of expertise.  

Why did you want to work at the Library of Congress?

It never occurred to me that I would work at the Library of Congress, but as I was about to graduate in 1967, a recruiter from LC came to Columbia University School of Library Service to hire catalogers. It’s hard to believe in today’s fiscal environment, but the Library of Congress was then flush with funds. The opportunity to work at LC and live in Washington was too good to turn down.

What is the most interesting fact you’ve learned about the Law Library?

I learned many interesting facts about the Library while classifying old congressional hearings. For example, during a 1900 hearing before a Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriation Committee, Librarian of Congress Herbert Putnam was requesting an automobile, but if that was not possible, a second horse would be required, “because the present one is not able to cover the distance he has to travel without breaking down.” Senator Teller replied that getting an automobile was a good idea, because “if we can get the horses off the street, we shall save a great deal of time in cleaning up the streets.”

What’s something most of your co-workers do not know about you?

I like to work in the woods. We live in the small town of Cheverly, which is inside the Beltway and encircled by major highways, but has many mature trees and nearly 60 acres of woods. Working with a group of volunteers from the town, I help maintain a nature trail and remove invasive plants. Upon retirement, I plan to spend much more time in the woods, so if you want to find me, you’ll have to search for me there. I might have a cell phone, but it will most likely be turned off, which really annoys my dear wife.

One Comment

  1. George Toth
    December 5, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    Applause, applause!
    I applaud Gabe – a good friend and colleague – for this interesting interview. Non-librarians’n eyes are glazed over when someone talks about cataloging. I was a cataloger in several libraries in social sciences. I always found that work fascinating. I learned something new every day – my only regret is that i didn’t have time to keep a logbook about new “discoveries”.
    Coming to work to the Library of Congress was the top of my professional career. In addition to the work, the place is interesting with all the conferences, concerts, exhibits. Conversations among colleagues are instructive, widening anyone’s horizon. And the technical expertise is unparalelled among the staff.
    I am a retiree now, but you can see me around just about every week – something is always going on at LC.

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