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An Interview with Heather Casey, Writer/Editor

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Today’s interview is with Heather Casey, a writer/editor in the Global Legal Research Directorate of the Law Library of Congress.

Heather Casey standing next to a red flower.
Heather Casey. Photo by Heather Casey.

Describe your background.

I was born in Virginia but moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, as a kid. After I received my undergraduate degree, I lived in France for about two years and I think that experience of living abroad as a young adult had a pretty profound impact on me, in terms of how I think about things and the choices I’ve made in my career. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to get outside one’s comfort zone and, if the opportunity arises, to see the world. I’m really grateful that I’ve had a lot of opportunities to travel and interact with different cultures. One thing that has struck me in my travels is how similar humans can be. A smile and genuine kindness can go far wherever you are.

What is your academic/professional history?

I received my undergraduate degree with a dual major in English literature and history from the University of Cincinnati. After that, I got my Master of Legal Studies (MLS) online from Drexel University. As I was finishing my MLS, I decided to go to law school, so then I ended up at William & Mary, which was a pretty interesting place to live. You would be at the grocery store and, because William & Mary is in the heart of Colonial Williamsburg, you’d look over and see an actor in full colonial garb right next to you. I graduated from law school in 2009 and the economy was pretty rough at that point so rather than practicing law, I pursued a career as a law librarian. Because I’d had the experience of living abroad, I had taken a lot of foreign, comparative, and international law classes and becoming an FCIL librarian was a natural fit for me. I started at Louisiana State University, which had an amazing French law collection, and then moved to the University of Richmond, where I gained a lot of experience teaching legal research both to 1Ls and also to paralegal students at one of the nearby community colleges. In 2013, I moved up to D.C. to take a job as one of the international and foreign law reference librarians at the Georgetown University Law Center and I stayed there for nine years. Georgetown gave me a lot of really great opportunities, including the chance to co-teach a semester-long course on international and foreign legal research. My experience of taking classes online for my library degree proved really useful when we switched to an online format during the pandemic because I had some insight into what it was like to be a student in a virtual environment. Teaching has always been one of my favorite parts of being a librarian.

How would you describe your job to other people?

This is a good question because I’ve been asked more than once what it is I do! Basically, one service that the Law Library offers to Congress, U.S. government agencies, and other patrons is providing explanation and/or analysis, be it in the form of a report, letter, or email, etc., of legal issues around the world. To do that, we have a team of foreign law specialists, each of whom focuses on several jurisdictions they are familiar with – generally because they studied or practiced law in the jurisdiction or in a similar system. Specialists come from all over the world and from legal systems that are quite different from that of the U.S., so that’s where editors like myself come in. We make sure the Law Library’s written products are clear to U.S. readers (and, often, non-lawyers), that all requested information is provided and accurate, and that each document meets the established formatting and other standards of the Global Legal Research Directorate (GLRD).

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

How many reasons am I allowed to give? First, it’s the Library of Congress – I can’t think of a more prestigious library in the world. Second, I’ve been aware of the work done by the foreign law specialists within GLRD for some time now and I’m fascinated that the Law Library of Congress has been able to assemble such a great team of legal scholars from all over the world. The opportunity to work with them is amazing. It’s also a shift from what I’ve done previous to now and I look forward to expanding my horizons and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone (something I like to do, apparently).

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

I’ve known this for a while but it still fascinates me – when Congress is in session, the Law Library stays open. Sometimes, when I would work late at Georgetown, I’d be walking to Union Station and look over to see that the light was still on at the Capitol – which meant someone would still be at the Law Library, ready to answer any questions that might come their way. I think it really speaks to the dedication of the librarians in the Law Library of Congress as well as the mission of the Law Library to serve our patrons.

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

I’m really into linguistics and how languages evolve. In undergrad, I took a few courses on linguistics, which really opened my eyes to how flexible language is; we tend to think that because there are rules of grammar, language is static but it’s definitely not! I also took classes on Old English and Middle English, which were like taking foreign language classes. I’ve read a lot of Chomsky, Pinker, and the like and I’m really captivated by how language can shape thought. I think back to how much my own communication style has changed, with the advent of social media, GIFs, and memes and it’s kind of cool to wonder how people a generation or two from now will communicate – what will be different and what will be the same?

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  1. Oficial Congratulations. Thanks!

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