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Interview with Jolande Goldberg, Law Classification Specialist

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A headshot of Jolande Goldberg.
Senior Law Classification Specialist Jolande Goldberg, photo by Ana Cristán.

Describe your background

My first encounter with the Library of Congress (LC) was as a young German legal historian with a fellowship to research the transplantation of European law and government structures into the original American colonies, in particular New Netherlands (New York).  My chief adviser and director at the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities/Section Deutsches Rechtsworterbuch, Prof. Siegfried Reike, sent me off with the expectation that this would be “an invaluable experience to explore and get to know this world-famous Library.” By good fortune, during my American year (1964-1965) two terrific mentors, Bill Strauss, General Counsel at the Law Library of Congress, and Dr. Ernst Posner, the “dean of American archivists,”– paradoxically, both German scholars “displaced” by the Nazi regime. Equipped with references, I was guided to archives and law school collections around the country. To support my research at LC, I was introduced to chiefs and curators. I had a study desk on Deck B – hot under the dome of the (not yet air conditioned) Jefferson Building – and I had the scholarly privilege of full access to all collections. I used to walk through the stacks in the evenings on the cool white marble, physically experiencing the enormity and majesty of LC collections: knowledge harnessed by classification. This place became my fatal addiction – and what my Heidelberg mentor called an invaluable experience, became a life-changing incident. After a second research year in 1966 at LC, I decided to accept an offer to join the LC staff and immigrated in 1967 – to the upset of my Heidelberg camp!

What is your professional history?

I was trained as a lawyer at the University of Munich and  University of Heidelberg law schools, with a mandatory legal apprenticeship and German bar, and Dr. Juris Utriusque, from Heidelberg (1963); Georgetown University (1964).  Over a decade later, I studied sculpture during a sabbatical year sculpture University of London/Goldsmiths College (1975-1976).

In 1967, I began my career of 50 years at Library of Congress as a cataloger (Shared Cataloging Division/Dutch-Scandinavian Section) with special assignments for law and Latin language materials.  My first American publication, was an edition with commentary on Baldo degli Ubaldi (1137-1400), Consilium in casu privilegiorum Recanatensium, one of the stellar manuscripts in the Law Library.  My article caught the attention of Werner Ellinger, the first law classification specialist and pioneer of the schedule Class KF Law of the US (1967). He was instrumental for my swift change to the Subject Cataloging Division, followed by a transfer to the “Class K Project,” as it was known then. From 1972 on, I developed the major part of the Library of Congress schedules for Class K-KZ (Law), as a knowledge organization system relating to all regions of the world, including ancient and religious systems of law, indigenous law, and the Law of nations. Since 1992, I have been the Library’s Senior Law Classification Specialist.

How would you describe your job to other people?

This is not easily done without describing the objective of the job.  As the Law classification specialist, my responsibilities are the planning, development, expansion and of the LC Classification for Law (Class K) for all countries and legal systems of the world, past and present.  Class K encompasses civil & common law, Ancient, Roman & Religious law- the latter including Canon, Jewish & Islamic law – and Comparative and International law.

Implementation of the vast Class K development began during the period of 1952-1969 with the first law class ever, KF (Law of the United States), which was designed by Werner Ellinger as the model for all common law jurisdictions. It was followed by the classification of German law (KK-KKC), the model for all civil law jurisdictions, my first full assignment, published in 1980.

My work was guided by the Advisory Committee on LC Foreign Law Classification under the chairmanship of the Acquisitions & Bibliographic Access Director (Library Services), as well as specialized committees at other institutions in the US and abroad (especially Harvard, Yale, and NYU).  These groups were the safeguard of Class K, its structure, cultural idiosyncrasies and relevancy, and at once formed a conduit to the Law Library Community, represented through the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL).  I am forever thankful for the strong AALL support and the honors the organization bestowed on me.

In general the law classification system is completed. Left over is my personal challenge: to complete Indigenous Law in the Western Hemisphere, a complex project that demands fluency in history, ethnic/anthropological studies, and mostly the joy of discovery. Classes for North and Central America are finalized. Indigenous South America is under development, aided by pre- and post- graduate research interns who are enthused by the project and fluent in Spanish or Portuguese.

A large part of my job concerns inter-institutional cooperation including negotiations, contributions, and consent as part of the vetting process – but also in support for national/joint projects and community outreach, such as training of librarians in classification in the U.S. and abroad (especially at institutions with large reclassification projects, as Berkeley and Yale, and such libraries that reclassify their indigenous law holdings). I lecture and write extensively, I maintain extensive contacts to institutions in communities vital to the project, and serve in an advisory capacity for particular organizations (e.g., LLMC-Digital; Hawai’i State Archives).

What is the most interesting fact you ever learned about the Law Library?

How extensive in subject, how numerous in tongues  – country by country,  and how rare the collections really are. You ask for Medieval and Canon law? You get it. You ask for Islamic and Jewish law? You get it. You ask for everything “international law”: the laws of war and peace; international commons, such as the high seas and Antarctica; the International Criminal Court and the Hague/Geneva humanitarian law, and the organizations safeguarding it? You get it.

The most interesting aspect of the Law Library is the expertise of the librarians and the services they provide to the Congress, bar and judiciary, governments, and public, and to specialists like me. I needed full shelf reviews, over and over, to see whether my classification fits the collections in terms, rubrics, and specificity. I never will forget my friend and colleague, the late David Rabasca, who fitted his reference schedule to be available when I needed his expertise.  And the friendship of all my other colleagues there who assisted with any help, or with a good argument and critique.

What is something your co-workers do not know about you?

I grew up in Germany not only thriving on European mythology but – as any youth – on the great Western myth of the American Indian. Fired up by Karl May’s western sagas, and Winnetou – augh – I was shedding tears because I could not be a native, flying on horseback over the prairie and hunting the buffalo!

I am also a sculptor and arts advocate. I was one of the founder- members of the Torpedo Factory Art Center (TFAC) in 1974, and served many terms on the Board of Directors of the Friends TFAC. I am charged with broad outreach, cooperating with community and other institutions in the region. As such, I was for several terms appointed by the City of Alexandria as Commissioner of the Historic Alexandria Resource Commission.

Comments (3)

  1. Jolande Goldberg is one of the Library’s greatest legal historians. A virtual “bundle of energy,” Jolande takes great joy in sharing her experience with law classification and institutional knowledge throughout the Library and across the globe. We are blessed to have her here at the Library of Congress. I am one of her longtime admirers.

  2. Jolande Goldberg is an incredible resource and a treasure for the law librarian profession!

  3. Jolande Goldberg is revered and loved in the law cataloging community. She has been a mentor to countless new and not so new law librarians, and is an inspiration to us all.

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