Describe your background.
As probably most of my colleagues know, I am originally from Poland. I grew up in Warsaw in a neighborhood that during World War II was a Jewish Ghetto (and is now home to the most fascinating new Museum of the History of Polish Jews).
My childhood was an interesting time for Poland: Martial Law (1981-1983) was proclaimed when I was six years old and communism fell (1989) when I was finishing elementary school. Watching my country getting its freedom back and learning how to use it, and how to grow into prosperity, was fascinating and brought us all a lot of hope.
I grew up in a house full of books, art and music, as both my parents – dad an engineer and mom a music critic – love it. That is why I knew the story of Hamlet even before I could read, and was a frequent patron of the ballet and opera, but never learned how to swim and started riding a bike only after I turned 20. I’m not complaining though, my childhood and youth were wonderful.
I moved to the U.S. in October 2001 with my then-husband and the Washington Metropolitan Area became my American hometown.
What is your academic/professional history?
During my college years I was a contributing author to one of Poland’s daily newspapers. After my graduation from the University of Warsaw with an MA in Polish Literature however, I started working in a Catholic middle school for girls. I stayed there only for a year and then came to the U.S. I loved my students and my job at the school and to this day I love teaching.
Luckily, in a way, I could continue my teaching experience first as a teacher’s assistant in a private daycare – that was my first American job – and then as a contractor in the Law Library’s stacks where one of my duties was training new employees. Some of those “students” still work in the Law Library (Ken Sigmund and Nathan Dorn).
I don’t have a degree in the library field (I still hope to get it one day though), but at this point I have over ten years of varied experience in the field. As I mentioned, I started working as a contractor in the Law Library closed stacks in March of 2005 and by November of 2006 became a government employee.
How would you describe your job to other people?
Microform (microfilm and microfiche) is my area of expertise. I prepare material to be reformatted – usually official gazettes, receive newly made microfilm reels, record them in the ILS Acquisition and/or Cataloging modules, shelve them, shift them as needed, and sometimes also deliver them to patrons.
Why did you want to work at the Law Library of Congress?
To be completely honest, I didn’t really want to work in the Law Library. Before I started working here as a contractor, I was telling my friends that, although I was very excited about joining a crew of the Library of Congress, I was also a little bit disappointed that I would be working in the most “boring” part of it. That was until I got to know the Law Library’s collection a bit more intimately. I discovered that in addition to codes, laws, rulings etc. – that are very important and whose value I learned to appreciate with time – the Law Library contains case law, court proceedings and other documents that are more fascinating than the best crime novels. As it’s one of my favorite genres, pretty quickly I started to sneak out to read these types of publications during my lunch breaks.
I don’t do it anymore these days, but my fascination with certain cult American crime stories (such as Lizzie Borden) stayed. Some time ago I even dreamed the call number of one of the books I had read a few years back and really wanted to find again, but remembered only how it looked.
What is the most interesting fact you’ve learned about the Law Library?
When I first walked in the stacks, my first impression was: “Oh, it smells like my university library in Poland!” I never worked there, but I could spend hours and days there doing research or just reading for pleasure. I loved it and its smell of dust and old paper apparently became associated in my head with “happy times”.
The next thing that struck me was how huge the collections were and how diverse – containing so many languages, subjects and media. I admired the beautiful binding of religious Islamic books in A-Quad and each time I ventured to D-Quad I played a little game of finding the oldest possible volume in the Roman law collection.
And then there is our microform collection. Maybe because I had to rediscover it and reorganize it all by myself – my mentor left the Library only three weeks into my training and was the only person who knew how to do his job – this part of the Law Library’s collection became very close to my heart, sort of “my baby”. I try to remember though that it is not my “private playground” and I try to make it as clear and accessible to others as possible. With our Reading Room remodeling, a few other projects going on in the closed stacks and constant issues with growth space, it is still work in progress.
What’s something most of your co-workers do not know about you?
I have a love for literature, arts and music from my family home. I have a horrible musical sense though, so I don’t play any instruments and try not to sing in public (and humanity should be grateful for that). Instead, I follow my other passions.
I have a small collection of poetry, wrote one novel (among other things, it takes place in the Law Library’s stacks and Lizzie Borden is one of the main characters) and am still working on the second one (18th century epistolary romance).
I also draw, paint and sculpt. After taking a few cake decorating classes in 2012 and enrolling in the Culinary Arts Program in 2014, I started to work extensively with sugar arts and cake decorating. So far I have one wedding and several sculpted cakes under my belt.