ABA Day at the Law Library of Congress

LOC - card catalogs

By Kelly A. McGlynn, Sr. Research & Knowledge Analyst, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom

In conjunction with ABA Day festivities last month in Washington D.C., the Law Library of Congress (in coordination with the ABA Standing Committee on the Law Library of Congress), hosted an afternoon program on April 27th.  Members of the Law Librarians’ Society of Washington D.C. (LLSDC) were invited to attend the event as well, and I jumped at the chance, as I had yet to visit the Law Library of Congress.  Here is a recap of what we saw and learned.

The Law Library of Congress has over 30,000 volumes in the Reading Room and approximately 1.5 football fields of materials in the closed stacks, for a grand total of 2.9 million volumes that cover content in over 265 jurisdictions. Both of these locations in the Madison Building would be stops on the afternoon tour.

But the event kicked off first with an introduction to the Law Library of Congress presented by Instructional Librarian Barbara Bavis, who reviewed the library’s extensive online resources. These include the Guide to Law Online, Legal Topics and the Global Legal Monitor. Bavis explained the difference between the latter two – Legal Topics are reports created for congressional committees and federal agencies, but the GLM is like a collection of newspaper articles, with a more robust search engine and new material posted each weekday. She also provided an overview of the capabilities of Congress.gov for researching legislation, as well as tips on Congressional Record searches and congressional member searches using the Bioguide.

LOC - Dorn showing rare book collection

Dorn showing the rare book collection

Next up, Program Specialist for Legislative and External Relations, Clifton Brown, showed us the Reading Room, which was renovated recently and re-opened in Sept. 2015. Brown explained that the Reading Room used to have 60,000 volumes, but post-renovation that number was cut in half, with more materials now stored in the closed stacks and offsite. While in the Reading Room, Nathan Dorn, curator of rare books for the Law Library of Congress, displayed and discussed materials from the collection. Of interest to the librarians, Dorn showcased a 16th century imprint in chained binding, which was to prevent “collection attrition.” And in a nod to the ABA members on the tour, he displayed a unique document from 1756 – “Articles of agreement to establish a quarterly meeting of the attorneys,” one of the first examples of self-organization of members of the legal profession.

LOC - closed stacks

Closed stacks

After this, Processing Supervisor Betty Lupinacci and Lead Technician Ken Sigmund gave us a tour of the closed law library stacks, which contain approximately 3 million items. On the way down to the stacks they pointed out all the old Library of Congress card catalogs, which are still around and are occasionally needed to refer to older entries. Betty explained that within the materials for each country in the closed stacks, items are arranged by statutes, then codes, followed by administrative materials, and finally treatises at the end. This helps so that if someone does not know the language of the country being looked at, there is a basic order of the items on the shelves that serves as a guide. Betty explained that after Congress, the Supreme Court is the Law Library’s second biggest client.

Finally (as if this was not enough!), we were invited to head over to the main Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress for a docent-led tour of the new exhibit, Drawing Justice: The Art of Courtroom Illustration.  This exhibit actually just opened on the day we were visiting and will be on display until October 28, 2017. The exhibit features drawings from 1964 to present day and includes categories on landmark cases, murder trials, political activists, terrorism, crime, and celebrities (Jagger!), as well as others.

Thanks to Clifton Brown for arranging the program, and thanks to the ABA for inviting LLSDC members to attend as well. It was a robust and well organized program, with lots of great questions and discussion, that provided a fantastic look inside one of the most amazing law libraries in the world.

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