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Five Questions with Barbara Bavis, Bibliographic and Research Instruction Librarian at the Law Library of Congress

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This post was written by Barbara Bavis of the Library of Congress.

Barbara Bavis. Photo by Shawn Miller

Describe what you do at the Library of Congress and the materials you work with as part of your day to day activities.

I am the Bibliographic and Research Instruction Librarian at the Law Library of Congress, which largely means that I help create, organize, manage, and provide instruction in the Law Library’s educational programs. Earlier this year, we launched a new series of legal research instruction classes delivered via webinar. Right now, during the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve been working on expanding our webinar offerings even more. We currently have four webinar series: the Orientation to Legal Research Webinar Series (classes on how to research federal laws created by the three branches of government), the Orientation to Law Library Collections Webinars (classes regarding the Law Library’s specific offerings), the Foreign and Comparative Law Webinar Series (classes taught by the Law Library’s foreign law experts on some of the issues they cover), and the Webinars (a bimonthly overview of how to use, with new updates included). For the U.S.-related webinars, the Law Library instructors and I work with a lot of governmental websites, like the Law Library’s digitized collections and Research Guides pages, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Office of the Law Revision Counsel’s U.S. Code page, the Government Publishing Office’s govinfo page,,, and I also provide reference assistance, and I use these resources to provide responses that not only try to give patrons an answer, but also step-by-step information about how I found that answer.

Digitized Materials from the Law Library of Congress

Do you have a favorite item from the Library’s online collections? Why is it your favorite item?

With all the great online collections offered by the Library of Congress, I feel like it is too hard to have a singular favorite. I do have a collection I really enjoy, however—the Law Library’s digitized Piracy Trials. These trials, which span from the late 1600s to the early 1900s, provide a really interesting window into this area of history. Researchers can get an idea of who pirates were, what they did (or didn’t) do, and how they were treated by the justice system after they were captured. I was so interested in one of the trials, “The Trial of Captain William Kidd for Murder and Piracy,” that I made a rare book video based on it for the Law Library’s blog, In Custodia Legis.

The Chicago Legal News, Myra Bradwell and Susan B. Anthony from In Custodia Legis

Share a time when an item from the Library’s collections sparked your curiosity.

One of my favorite items from the Law Library’s collection is a volume of the Chicago Legal News that was gifted to the Library in the early 1900s by Susan B. Anthony. This item was interesting to me largely because of how it serves as a connection point for feminist, legal, and legislative leaders in the U.S. at the turn of the 20th Century. The importance of Susan B. Anthony in the woman’s suffrage movement might be immediately obvious, but I was intrigued by who Myra Bradwell, the editor of the Chicago Legal News, was. Thanks to a blog post from one of my colleagues, I learned that Ms. Bradwell, in addition to being the first woman to edit a legal periodical in the U.S., was also involved in an important Supreme Court case regarding the right of women to become licensed attorneys—Bradwell v. Illinois, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 130 (1873). Further, the attorney who represented Ms. Bradwell in front of the Supreme Court, Matthew Carpenter, was a U.S. Senator, and used his position there to support Ms. Anthony’s fight for women’s suffrage in Congress. The interconnectedness of the fight for women’s voting rights with the fight for women’s legal rights was fascinating to me, and I am interested in finding other historical connections like this in our other collection items.

Tell us about a memorable interaction with a K-12 teacher.

Luckily, I get to represent the Law Library at the Library’s Summer Teacher Institutes Open Houses every summer, where I get to talk to K-12 teachers and school librarians about how our resources might assist them in their instruction. The interactions I get to have during these Institutes are truly memorable, not only because I get to see participants’ faces light up with “aha!” moments about how they can use our collections, but also because I get insight into how we can make our collections more accessible and helpful to them.

What’s one thing you’d like to tell teachers about the Library?

One thing I try to impart in all of my classes is how approachable our reference librarians are. We know that some of our topics may initially appear to be overly complicated and confusing, especially to someone just getting started with their research, and we want to help as much as possible—with research guides, with Ask a Librarian answers, with blog posts, and with educational offerings.


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