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2017 New Year’s Greetings from the Law Librarian of Congress

This is a guest post by Roberta I. Shaffer, the Law Librarian of Congress. Download the PDF version of the FY2016 Law Library Annual Report.

New Opportunities and Perspectives

The year 2016 witnessed a historic change at the Library of Congress – the installation of the first woman and first African-American Librarian of Congress. Chief Justice of the United State John Roberts swore in the 14th Librarian, Dr. Carla Hayden, on September 14, while the Speaker of the House Paul Ryan presided over the ceremony.  The change in leadership brings with it new opportunities to propel the institution forward in the areas of information technology, collections access, and service to Congress.  Ever the standard bearer, the Law Library similarly made advances in these three key areas over the past year.

Information Technology. In 2016, the Law Library launched a workforce mobility pilot that expanded telework opportunities and equipped staff with lightweight, portable laptops that provided a seamless work experience between the office and home.  Urged on by the yearlong Metro Safe Track Plan that promised to disrupt commutes, the workforce mobility pilot aimed to maintain staff productivity during the scheduled shutdown of a major mode of transportation for so many employees. Law Library staff gained the ability to bring their laptops with them to routine meetings for note taking and to the stacks for search and immediate retrieval – just two examples of productivity increases.

Collections Access. A long-awaited replacement of compact shelving in the Law Library stacks yielded immediate improvement in collections access.  The Law Library completed installation of the compact shelving – on-time and on-budget – in August 2016 and repatriated collections to the new ranges.  The upgraded mechanics allow the shelves to move much more smoothly and with less physical effort.

THOMAS, which launched with great fanfare on January 5, 1995, retired on July 5, 2016. By 2010, it became clear that THOMAS could not support the desired enhancements that users required, and the Library turned its efforts to developing Congress.gov, the new legislative information system. This year, in preparation for THOMAS’ retirement, Congress.gov underwent significant enhancements, including a new video series called Two-Minute Tips, browse by Legislative Subject Terms, Advanced Search for legislation, content from the Congressional Record Index, and new email alerts.

Service to Congress. The Law Library engaged an expert from another Library unit to explore outreach efforts to Congress and recommend a strategy for increasing awareness through targeted outreach activities and creating mechanisms for ongoing outreach initiatives.  Her resulting report outlines a roadmap for communicating the Law Library’s expertise to Congressional offices on a regular basis.

Looking to the New Year

Jewish Ghetto of Venice. The 500th anniversary of the founding of the Jewish Ghetto of Venice created an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the centuries’ long experience of segregation in Venice and to consider the impact it had during its existence both on Jewish lives and institutions and on the lives of the majority population of the Venetian Republic. In May 2016, the Library commemorated the date with a symposium called, “La Città degli Ebrei/The City of the Jews: Segregated Space and the Admission of Strangers in the Jewish Ghetto of Venice,” which was undertaken in collaboration with the Embassy of Italy and the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Maryland.

On February 21, 2017, the Law Library and the Embassy of Italy will host another program, “Understanding Seclusion: the Legal Dimensions of the Ghetto,” highlighting the early history of the segregated Jewish community in Venice. In June 2017, Ruth Bader Ginsburg will come to the Library to reprise her role as the judge presiding over the mock trial of Shylock, the main antagonist of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.

Drawing Justice Exhibition.  The Law Library has partnered with the Prints & Photographs Division to curate the most striking examples of original art for the exhibition, Drawing Justice: The Art of Courtroom Illustration. Slated to open in April 2017, the exhibition will celebrate the art form that thrived in courtrooms before cameras were permitted to record trials.  Visitors will recognize the most significant cases of the 20th and 21st centuries through the hand-drawn depictions of plaintiffs, defendants, and judges.  The Library’s rich collection of courtroom drawings will be on display in the Jefferson Building’s South Gallery until October 2017.

Charter of the Forest. This year, Law Library staff have been busy laying the groundwork for the exhibition, Charter of the Forest: Law of the Land.  Scheduled to open in 2018, this exhibition will focus on issues of land management, sustainability, and the legal developments in America’s history for preservation and the use of our nation’s natural resources.  The Charter of the Forest is one of the oldest surviving documents in Western Europe addressing natural resource issues and remains relevant today as our country balances property rights with protection of the public stake in our natural resources. An exhibition such as Charter of the Forest opens up opportunities for the Law Library to collaborate with American and British interests to provide a rich educational experience for visitors and K-12 students.

Law Librarian Search. As I write this, the search for the next leader of the Law Library of Congress is close to yielding the 25th Law Librarian.  We should know by early 2017 about my successor.  The new Law Librarian is sure to bring a fresh perspective to the institution and its constituents, raising the profile of an already esteemed research library and harnessing the latest information technology to bring even more law resources to the American people.

I thought it was poignant that the Law Library celebrated the 265th birthday of Founding Father James Madison. Madison, not unlike the Law Library, was physically very small yet is recognized as having made a gigantic contribution to our nation. I am proud of the small but mighty service unit that I lead. It has been an honor and a delight to serve the Law Library once again.  I would like to thank the Law Library’s supporters and express my appreciation for the many ways you have helped to promote and attend our public events, and engage with us in person and through social media.

I wish you all a prosperous and successful new year ahead.


Roberta I. Shaffer

Law Librarian of Congress

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