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An Interview with Kirstin Nelson, National Agricultural Library’s Law Librarian

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Kirstin Nelson standing in front of a poster titled "Wikipedia Collaboration" with further text explaining the project.
Kirstin Nelson of the National Agricultural Library

Today’s interview is with Law Librarian Kirstin Nelson, a contractor on assignment at our sister institution the National Agricultural Library.  Kirstin helped edit Congressional committee information at the Wikipedia edit-a-thon held at the Library in April.

Describe your background.

I was born and raised in Nebraska. In early childhood, I lived on the western side of the state in the small town of Gordon. In my teen years, my family moved to the eastern side of the state, and I lived just outside Omaha.  My love of reading, history, and politics comes from my parents.  Throughout my childhood, I went on weekly visits to the local library with my mom. My goal was to read through the entire biography section at the Keene Memorial Library. I’m still working on it.

What is your academic/professional history?

I completed my undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I earned a degree in social sciences/secondary education with a concentration in multicultural education. I taught middle and high school for two years in Omaha, Nebraska. While working on a curriculum committee charged with creating a course in African American history, I first considered librarianship as a career. The incredible assistance I received from both public and academic librarians gave me a heightened respect for the critical role they play in society.  Several years later I enrolled at the University of Missouri-Columbia and earned my library and information science degree. I had an interest in legal studies and was mentored by the director of the law library. She encouraged me to pursue a law degree and become a law librarian. After library school, I earned my J.D. at University of Baltimore School of Law.

Following law school, I worked in both academic and law firm libraries. I’ve continued to use my education degree by teaching advanced legal research at University of Maryland School of Law. I took a seven-year break from libraries to work at Morningstar, Inc., but am now back in the library field at the National Agricultural Library (NAL). NAL is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service located outside Washington, D.C. in Beltsville, Maryland.

How would you describe your job to other people?

My primary job at NAL is to manage the Agricultural Law Information Partnership (Ag Law). The mission of the partnership is to advance the dissemination of objective agricultural and food law research and information as set out in the 2014 Farm Bill (P.L.  113-79).  Ag Law addresses the need for the development and delivery of authoritative, timely, and objective agricultural and food law research and information to serve the nation’s vast agricultural community primarily through cooperative partnerships. For purposes of the Ag Law project, agricultural and food law are defined broadly to include not just land-based agriculture food and fiber production and systems, but also energy issues, and seafood and marine-based production via aquaculture.

NAL’s Ag Law partners are the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School and the National Agricultural Law Center. One piece of the partnership is the Agricultural Law Information Partnership website, which provides an overview and portal to a wide range of resources for farmers, producers, consumers, researchers and legal professionals. The website highlights interactive, digital content such as the National Gleaning Project and Farmland Tenure Resource Project.  Also available are substantive research materials, agricultural and food law research publications, extensive topical reading rooms and state agricultural law compilations.

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

As a teenager, I worked for a small, family-owned seed company detasseling and roguing corn. My parents grew up on working farms and wanted their children to experience and appreciate the hard work done on family farms. Little did I know that one day I’d work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

What is the most interesting item in your library?

One of the library’s most popular collections is the NAL Digital Exhibits. Created by Emily Marsh in our Digital Library Branch, the exhibits highlight unique USDA publications that might otherwise have a very limited audience. For example, “Frost on Chickens” focuses on Robert Frost’s time spent as a poultry farmer from 1900-1909. The exhibit includes over 200 selected full-text digital books, reports, and images from the late the 1800s and the 1900s on poultry farming. Also documented are current works of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service related to poultry, including research into poultry health, nutrition, and housing, egg and meat safety and quality, and poultry production efficiency. Our digital exhibits form an integrated information ecosystem where users can meet our content in a context that facilitates discovery and engagement.




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