The Law Librarian of Congress, Jane Sánchez, addressed the Hispanic Law Conference at American University’s Washington College of Law on March 29th. In her remarks, Jane stressed the connection between the Law Library’s work and James Madison’s famous quote that is inscribed on the walls of the Madison Building, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance and a people who mean to be their own governours (sic) must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” Jane mentioned that libraries continue to play an essential role in furnishing the authoritative information that is a prerequisite for effective civic participation, but also pointed out that libraries are in competition with other sources of information and must work to remain relevant. Jane then discussed how the Law Library of Congress meets that challenge.
Jane mentioned that the Law Library of Congress holds nearly 3 million volumes and supports a wide variety of constituents, including: Congress, the Supreme Court, Executive Branch agencies, federal courts, the practicing bar, state and local governments, American businesses, and scholars with legal research and reference questions. The Law Library provides reference assistance with U.S. federal, state, and local law, and thanks to the work of our foreign legal specialists, we also provide reference assistance with laws from 240 other nations and legal systems around the world. Jane also highlighted that the Law Library offers training sessions for locating statutes, regulations, and court cases in print and online formats.
Jane recognized that not everyone can visit the Law Library on Capitol Hill, and for that reason the Law Library began offering access to digital resources as far back as the 1990s, working on strategic projects aimed at making primary legal materials available for free online. One of our primary digital projects is Congress.gov, a collaborative project with the Library of Congress, Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Office of the Secretary of the Senate, the Government Publishing Office, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Congressional Research Service. Congress.gov, the official website for U.S. federal legislative information, helps the public stay informed of Congressional activity with features such as email alerts that help the public track the sponsorship and progress of legislation. Jane mentioned that Congress.gov has recently experienced a sharp increase in traffic since January 22nd. We are excited to see that this increase in traffic is due in part to legislation going viral on Facebook.
Jane noted that the Law Library strives to meet our off-site patron’s information needs through our website, law.gov, Ask A Librarian, and through our presence on social media. She noted that while we cannot always condense our reports into 140 characters, we work to make our research products available online, providing educational resources through our foreign law reports, the Global Legal Monitor, the Indigenous Law Portal, and our blog, In Custodia Legis. Jane concluded by recognizing that we are not under the illusion that we are the first source for news and current events and that we cannot impart the knowledge of 3 million law volumes in 140 characters or cover complex legal topics in an entertaining soundbite. Instead, we strive to do what law libraries do best, which is provide a place for authentic, accurate, and authoritative resources that deepen our understanding of the laws governing our own country and all other countries of the world.