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An Interview with Felipe Vicencio, the Deputy Director of the Library of Congress of Chile

On October 19th and 20th, the Law Library of Congress had the pleasure of hosting a visit by Felipe Vicencio, the deputy director for the Library of Congress of Chile. Mr. Vicencio was kind enough to agree to an interview to discuss his work at the Library and highlight some of their recent initiatives. The following is a summary of our conversation.

What are the goals of the Library of Congress of Chile and what are some of the vital services that you offer to the legislature and the public?

Mr. Vicencio mentioned that the Library’s primary purpose is to serve the legislative branch. The Library not only offers sound information to inform the work of the Chilean legislature but also ensures that information is non-partisan and objective. The Library also offers advisory research services similar to what the Library of Congress’s Congressional Research Service provides for the United States Congress.

Mr. Vicencio also mentioned that the Library works to strengthen the connection between the legislative branch of Chile and the people of Chile. The Library provides open access to 300,000 laws, both current and historical, through their website, which received seven million page views last year. He also mentioned that the Library organizes a national competition for students to promote civics education. Finally, Mr. Vicencio discussed the Library’s comparative constitutional law site, which was created to inform the Chilean constitutional convention, and which is also accessible to the public.

Deputy Director Vicencio presenting to Law Library of Congress on Comparador de Constituciones. Photo by Mirela Savic-Fleming.

Deputy Director Vicencio presenting to Law Library of Congress staff on Comparador de Constituciones. Photo by Shawn Miller.

What is your academic/professional history?

Mr. Vicencio emphasized that he is a librarian, but mentioned that he completed legal training in Chile, though he chose not to practice. Instead, he focused his efforts on the study of law and taught law at a university. Mr. Vicencio is currently studying for a doctorate in history at San Sebastián University in Santiago. His research interests include legal history, Chilean bibliography, Chilean constitutional law, and the laws of the Indies. The laws of the Indies include the laws that were applied in Chile during the reign of the Spanish Empire.

Mr. Vicencio also mentioned that he recently published a book that focuses on the last unpublished legal work of Andrés Bello. Bello provided lectures on the topic of universal law that were based on the work of the Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham.

Does the Library of Congress of Chile have a collection of rare materials? Do you have any favorite items from that collection?

Mr. Vicencio responded that the Library of Congress of Chile has 12,000 rare books and items. One of his favorites is the third edition of a book called La Araucana. This is an epic poem written by Alonso de Ercilla that was published in the late 16th century, and which provides an account of the struggle between Spain and Chile’s Indigenous people, the Mapuche, that is a mixture of fact and fiction. Mr. Vicencio also mentioned that the Library has a rich collection of Chilean materials, including some of the first copies of the Chilean Constitution, and a copy of Chile’s first newspaper, La Aurora de Chile, which was first published in 1812.

Are there any recent initiatives that you would like to highlight? 

Mr. Vicencio discussed the work the Library has undertaken to support the Chilean Constitutional Convention with information on comparative constitutional law that they may rely on to write a new constitution. He also mentioned that the Library is working to modernize their resources in order to better support the legislature and the public with accurate, rapidly accessible information through their website.

In closing, Mr. Vicencio returned to his discussion of La Araucana. Mr. Vicencio drew a connection between that 16th-century poem and the Library’s work supporting the creation of a new Chilean Constitution, remarking that the president of the Chilean Constitutional Convention is a Mapuche woman. Mr. Vicencio stated that this underscores that the Chilean Constitutional Convention represents progress toward the realization of a more inclusive society and is an effort to work together to make a constitution for all of the people of Chile.

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