This is an interview with Jim Martin, senior legal information analyst with the Public Services Division.
Describe your background.
I am a senior legal information analyst with the Law Library. I was originally hired as a reference librarian in June of 1992. I also served as head of the Law Library Reading Room for almost 9 years, and as temporary rare book curator for about one year while Nathan was devoting his time to the Magna Carta exhibit. I am an Army brat, born in a military hospital on what is now Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, so I tell people that I have no real hometown although I lived in Alabama for a number of years, and my family has roots in Lima, Ohio, and northern Kentucky.
What is your academic/professional history?
As an undergraduate I attended the University of Alabama where I majored in history, with a concentration in British and ancient civilizations. During that time, I was an intern for one semester in the public affairs department of the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. I earned a law degree from Alabama and passed the bar. After a period of working for the government I decided I wanted to do something else, so I went to graduate school at the University of Michigan where I earned a master’s in Information and Library Studies with a concentration in law librarianship.
I worked for three years as the public services librarian at the University of Arkansas Little Rock/Pulaski County Law Library in Little Rock, Arkansas. I was then hired by the Law Library of Congress.
How would you describe your job to other people?
I tend to be a visual thinker and I like all types of maps so I think of my job as a knowledge navigator. Some individuals just need a map, perhaps guidance to a website or print resource that they can use for their research, and reassurance that they are headed in the right direction knowing they can pull over later and ask for directions if needed. Others require extensive guidance on how to use the map to get where they want to go. I often find myself doing this in helping people to use Congress.gov or other electronic resources; but, since the Library has extensive print and microtext resources I have to be able to also assist users with these items. I’m a firm believer in the reference interview and I think I’ve done a poor job if my questions, suggestion and answers don’t help a reader locate the resources they are seeking, or at least guide them to other useful resources. I also believe that not all questions can be answered, or at least answered definitely, and sometimes I have to say something like “that area is terra incognita, (without the reference to “Here be dragons.”), but have you thought of this?” Finally, sometimes I have to create the map myself. In this guise I write content for bibliographies, reports and other resources. This past year I researched and wrote an outline for a proposed short video. That was challenging and fun.
Why did you want to work at the Law Library?
I’m a baseball fan so the answer is that I wanted to “play in the bigs.” The Library is the New York Yankees (boo! I’m a fan of the Nats and Tigers.) of research libraries. I also was interested in having the opportunity to watch Congress from a close up seat. Finally, my wife has also worked as a law librarian so the Washington, D.C. area was an ideal area for us to relocate to.
What is the most interesting fact you’ve learned about the Law Library?
I can’t really answer that. In many ways I’m still learning about the Law Library and the Library of Congress. My co-workers are the Library’s greatest resources and I enjoy learning about their varied backgrounds. The Law Library is still evolving, both in physical structure, with the new Reading Room, in its collections, and most importantly in its human resources. The books are a bibliophile’s dream. The year I worked as the rare book curator provided me with the opportunity to learn much more about a unique and valuable collection. I sometimes find “gems” in the collection, such as the declaration of war on Serbia by the Hapsburg government, which appeal to my interest in history.
What is something most of your co-workers do not know about you?
I am very shy which is a strange trait for someone who sits at a reference desk for upwards of 20 hours a week.