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An Interview With Aaron Kuperman, Law Cataloger

Today’s interview is with Aaron Kuperman, law cataloger, law cataloging trainer, legal cataloging expert, and sometimes acting section head in the Law Team (the law cataloging team, part of Library Services, ABA, USPRLL) at the Library.

Aaron Kuperman, law cataloger and section head. [photo courtesy of Library’s staff directory]

Describe your background.

I grew up in Albany, New York. I received a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, and after living in Jerusalem for a few years, earned a Master of Arts in Library Science from the (now defunct) Graduate Library School of the University of Chicago, and then a Juris Doctor from the Cardozo School of Law of Yeshiva University. I was admitted to the New York bar, but never practiced law though for a while I moonlighted doing freelance legal research (which paid for my first computer- I splurged for one with 640K RAM, two very floppy disk drives, and DOS 3.1).

What is your academic/professional history?

Before starting graduate school, I researched careers, and went to library and law school with the intention of becoming a law librarian specializing in cataloging at a major research library, and planned my studies accordingly (e.g. skipping the courses on practical lawyering to have time for legal history and comparative law). The switch from journalism to librarianship was necessitated since back then it was very hard to get an entry level job for someone unwilling to work on Saturdays; the same factor determined choosing cataloging rather than public service library work. While I have been a cataloger for almost 40 years, with the benefit of hindsight I can see how my work has reflected that I had wanted to be journalist or a reference librarian. Creating metadata is just a way of helping users find what they are looking for, but by other means.

How would you describe your job to other people?

In modern English, I assign metadata to resources about the legal system for works in most Western languages as well as Hebrew (or as they said in last millennium, I catalog law books). That means I read lots of law books from all over the world, describe them using on standard code (AACR, and now RDA), assign subject headings from a list of controlled vocabulary terms (LCSH), and then classify them based on a classification system (LCC’s K schedule) designed to logically arrange materials in an order that users would expect to find them. More importantly, I propose new subject terms for the controlled vocabulary list and for classification schedules to reflect how the legal systems of the world are evolving.

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

We own comic books (e.g. a “graphic” explanation of how courts work, designed for semi-literate people in developing countries). We have, and catalog, books in almost all languages ever spoken. For many countries, we get practitioner materials and even law school crib books, which for some countries may be the best source for understanding how the legal system actually works. We have historical books on law for non-lawyers that an academic law library would never own, and that a public law library would never keep. One day I might catalog a comparative law book on the Sumerian legal system, and then an introduction to American law in Yiddish for 19th century immigrants, and then a dissertation on whether an artificial intelligence can own the intellectual property it creates, and then a “popular” book on a customary law court in a developing country that is evolving into a small claims court, and then a treatise on the law governing aliens (as in “little green men with antennas”).

What are your post-career plans? Any regrets?

I would have liked the opportunity to do public service work, or to be a bibliographer or work in collection development, rather than just cataloging. I expect to stay active in professional organizations dealing with legal history and especially customary law, and Jewish law in particular. I have always been a baseball fan, and hope to get to more games, at least if Baltimore ever gets a major league team. While law and library cataloging rules are complex and sometimes out of touch with reality, I am ready to move on to something more challenging such as chess and Kaballah.




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