Today’s interview is with Aslihan Bulut, our new deputy law librarian for collections. Aslihan now heads up the Global Legal Collections Directorate of the Law Library.
Describe your background.
I am 1.5 generation (1.5G) Turkish-American, meaning I immigrated to the United States as an adolescent. I credit learning English to my discovery of the neighborhood public library that was within walking distance from our home. I was in awe of the collection and resources that were freely available. Public libraries, in my opinion, are in the list of the top three institutions that Americans take for granted, right up there with freedom of speech and the press. I learned to read English, graduating from Curious George books to exhausting the entire run of Nancy Drew holdings in the small branch library collection. I soon discovered inter-library loan and the seeds of love and appreciation for libraries were planted then and there. My appreciation of and commitment to libraries as a seminal institution of democracy and a bedrock of an egalitarian society has grown exponentially over the course of my adulthood and my chosen career.
What is your academic/professional history?
I have worked in libraries since high school, where I first started as a page in the reference department of our public library (a different one than the one above), shelving, shelf-reading, and filing looseleafs. I still have very nostalgic memories of these activities as being incredibly cathartic and meditative. I’ve worked in public and academic libraries for the last 20+ years. I earned my master in library science (MLS) from Rutgers State University and my juris doctor (JD) from CUNY School of Law. Most recently, I worked as an administrator in the California State University system, where I was the director of academic services at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library at San Jose State University. Prior to that I was the program coordinator and librarian for foreign, comparative and international law at Langdell Law Library of Harvard Law School, and at the turn of the 21st century I was a reference librarian and lecturer-in-law at the Diamond Law Library of Columbia Law School. Having traversed the country twice, I truly feel like a pilgrim having arrived at the Mecca of libraries.
How would you describe your job to other people?
This is the most difficult question in this interview, because it is very difficult to explain librarianship to those outside the profession and now the added complexities of the Library of Congress, and my role here as the deputy law librarian for collections, makes it even more challenging. The Global Legal Collections Directorate is everything under the hood of the one of a kind machinery that is the Law Library of Congress. We acquire, maintain and make accessible the largest law collection in the world. I explained to my mom, who is in her 80s, that I get to work at the largest library in the world and have the privilege and honor to be surrounded by some of the most brilliant and dedicated professionals. She and I are on the same page that I’m truly blessed and fortunate to have this opportunity and it’s a humbling experience.
Why did you want to work at the Law Library of Congress?
Because this library is truly not just a national treasure, but a world treasure. I wish every librarian could have a chance to experience the remarkable scale of everything accomplished within these walls–it should be a pillar, a prerequisite if you will, of earning one’s MLS degree. I am still awestruck and can’t believe I get to be a part of this. It is invigorating and exhausting at the same time, to be here, and I have enjoyed every minute thus far. The first time I was in the stacks, I felt like I had died and gone to heaven.
What is the most interesting fact you’ve learned about the Law Library?
I take back my earlier response about the third question being the hardest.
The Law Library is very much dependent on our colleagues across Library of Congress to accomplish everything that we do. I want to express my gratitude, especially to our colleagues in the Acquisitions and Bibliographic Access Directorate, which has an entire law unit independent of the Law Library to catalog our acquisitions. Oh, and there is an “incunabula overflow” in our special collections. If that is not unique and impressive on its own, I don’t know what is.
What’s something most of your co-workers do not know about you?
Once upon a time, I was an internal auditor for ISO-9000 at a manufacturing plant that was a supplier of insulation for electric cables and aircrafts. They paid for my MLS!