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An Interview with Susan Taylor-Pikulsky, Visual Information Specialist

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Today’s interview is with Susan Taylor-Pikulsky, a visual information specialist at the Law Library of Congress.

Describe your background? 

I’m originally from Youngstown, Ohio, famous for its steelmaking heyday and immortalized in its namesake Bruce Springsteen ballad. At age 16, I started my first job as a tour guide at the historic Arts and Crafts home of Olive F. Arms—the Arms Family Museum—which instilled in me a deep love of history, architecture, and design. Over a century after its completion, the home stands as a monument to beautiful design and the power of one woman with an unwavering vision to positively impact a community.

What is your academic/professional history? 

Susan Taylor-Pikulsky standing with arms crossed and autumn leaves in the background.
Photo by Katie Lewis, National Defense University.

I spent most of my university education overseas, completing my masters of arts in international relations from the University of St Andrews in 2010. I moved to Washington, D.C., immediately after graduation and for nine years I worked in various roles in the Department of Defense, most recently spending six years working as a program director for the United States Naval Special Warfare Command.

I was recently accepted to the Maryland Institute College for Art in Baltimore for their Data Analytics and Visualization program. I am very excited to have the opportunity to stay on the cutting edge of trends in transforming data into visually compelling forms and apply those skills to my work in the Law Library.

How would you describe your job to other people? 

When people hear “visual information specialist” they usually conjure images of something in the realm of audio/visual technician. In reality my position is similar to that of a graphic designer, wherein I create graphics and visualizations that accurately communicate nuanced characteristics of international law (such as the Law Library’s recent report, Israel: Military Draft Law and Enforcement, exploring the issue of military draft law in Israel). I view my role as collaborating with our incredible team of legal experts and editors in order to enhance users’ understanding of the material. My goal is to ensure that we are using the proper tools to fully engage with our audience and that our materials are accessible to all.

Why did you want to work at the Library of Congress?

After I saw the Library invest in new branding from Paula Scher and Pentagram I knew there was a home for me here where I could marry my civil service with my love of graphic design. I love that Scher’s logo and branding defy pre conceived expectations and limitations about how a government identity should look and act.

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

The discovery that has made me most excited was learning that the WPA Federal Art Project poster collection is housed in the Library. Active from 1935 to 1943, the Federal Art Project played a vital role in many artists’ lives during a tumultuous period of American history and some prints remain among the most significant pieces of public art in the country.

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

Since starting work at the Library I’ve started a small side-project just for myself in which I create historic collages using pieces from the Library’s vast collections in the public domain. It’s been a fun way for me to explore the library’s collections as well as the history of Washington, D.C.

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