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An Interview with Angela Kinney, Chief of the African, Latin American & Western European Division of Library Services

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Today’s interview is with Angela Kinney. Angela is the Chief of the African, Latin American & Western European Division in the Acquisitions & Bibliographic Access Directorate of Library Services.

Angela Kinney standing in the great hall of the Library of Congress.
Angela Kinney at the Jefferson Building. Photo by Kelly McKenna

Describe your background

I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and raised in a large, happy family that included my parents and eight brothers and sisters. My father was a devout Catholic, who along with my mother believed strongly in the power of education. Because of that foundation, I was educated in a Catholic grade school, attended church daily, and graduated from a private girls’ high school, where nuns educated me. I grew up in an environment in which reading, love of family, and an appreciation of the arts were emphasized. A requirement of my high school curriculum was to take a language course for four years, and my choices were Latin, French, or Spanish. I chose Spanish, not knowing that learning a foreign language would change my life forever. That decision led to me moving after high school to Washington, D.C., to attend Georgetown University, a Jesuit school where I studied Spanish as a major, Italian as a minor, with a concentration in French and linguistics. My plan after graduating university was to seek employment as an interpreter for the United Nations. By chance, a fellow Georgetown graduate working at the Library of Congress told me that the Library was hiring. His encouragement resulted in my employment at the Library beginning in 1981.

What is your professional history?

My first job at the Library was as an Information Counter Attendant in the retail sales area. It was an ideal job, as everyone who was anyone visited the gift shop, including Daniel Boorstin, then Librarian of Congress; heads of state; members of Congress; and too many celebrities to name. Henry Kissinger came through one day, and I was so floored I could barely speak to him! My job was to sell retail and assist visitors to get to their destinations in the Library. My exposure to people from around the world increased my language skills and my knowledge of the Library, and I ended my two-year stint in that job knowing where all the reading rooms were located and with a solid idea of how the Library functioned as a federal institution. I then segued into the world of cataloging, something that intrigued me, because I have always been an avid reader. Over the next thirty-six years, I progressed from being a cataloging technician, then librarian, to a first-line supervisor, and for the past fifteen years, I have worked as a division chief at the Library. Looking back, I would not have changed any aspect of my career. It has been such an excellent experience to be part of something as meaningful as cataloging. Not only had I found my calling, I was also using the languages I studied over many years. Knowing that I created cataloging records that represent the Library’s world-class collections fills me with pride even today.

During this period, I completed my master’s degree in library science at The Catholic University of America. My family came from Cincinnati to my graduation, and although my parents who had passed away many years before were not there to share my joy, I cherish the photos taken by my mother’s twin who was able to attend. In all of the photos, I looked exhausted, but so grateful to have my degree!

In 2008, my directorate reorganized and I was transferred into a position as chief of the African, Latin American & Western European Division in the Acquisitions & Bibliographic Access Directorate of Library Services, which opened the door to me learning how the Library builds its collections through acquisitions. Over my nearly 38 years at the Library, I have been fortunate to work with some of the most talented individuals I have ever met. I continue to be inspired every day I work at the Library. I realized early in my career that working at the Library is more than just completing duties in one’s position description. It is about providing service to others, whether it be through acquiring rare, hard to find collections and making them visible to the world, or helping others to move forward in their careers or in their quest to locate and use information.

How would you describe your job to other people?

When people ask me where I work, I say I am a librarian at the Library of Congress and their faces brighten, because everyone reveres the Library. I describe my work as a manager whose job it is to bring visibility to the Library’s collections, programs, services, and its human resources. My job has many components to it. As a division chief, I am responsible for managing funds and I provide guidance and advice to staff on the Library’s regulations and policies. I also serve as a representative of the Library to external organizations, provide oversight for programs, and formulate and administer policies at the division level. A typical day for me includes attending multiple meetings where intensive planning takes place, communicating by email, meeting many deadlines, and managing multiple and diverse types of contracts that require a good deal of my attention and monitoring. I find my work exciting because it has impact across the Library and the world. I have an outstanding team of first line supervisors who are experts at their jobs and a superlative and supportive group of staff members who are knowledgeable, great to work with, and really understand the Library’s mission.

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

I have always been fascinated with the history of the Library of Congress and its origin. I know that the Library was established in 1800 under President John Adams, who signed an act to move the U.S. government from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., and that the law included the purchase of books for a library that would meet the needs of Congress. What I did not learn until recently was that back in 1783, James Madison actually originated the idea of a library for members of Congress. As a lover of all biographies, I have devoured books in particular on Thomas Jefferson, one of my favorite presidents who led a colorful and storied life in my opinion. Jefferson did much to put in place the structure of the Library we know today, including contributing titles from his own personal library after the British burned the Library’s original collection during the War of 1812. However, knowing that James Madison actually originated the idea of what is now the Library of Congress piques my interest to read more about our fourth president.

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

My co-workers probably do not know that I was a fellow in the second class of the Leadership Development Program, and that as requirement of the internship, I submitted a project proposal to establish a fitness center at the Library that evolved into the “Wellness Center.” My proposal was for the Library to consider the creation of a safe location onsite to promote good health among staff through exercise and health monitoring, which studies have shown lead to longevity and a more productive work environment. The former chief of staff JoAnn Jenkins, now CEO of AARP, approved my proposal and formed a committee with various representatives across the Library to initiate my recommendations. The Wellness Center is located in the John Adams Building on the basement level and I encourage everyone who can to use the facilities.

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