July 27, 2020

Perspectives: The Road to the Library

Sheila Hollis

My love of libraries began in early childhood; art and dinosaurs initially caught my attention and evolved into a hunger for anthropology and archaeology. As an only child, I lived with my mother, who was a weapons designer, geological and electrical draftsman, designer, and artist. She was an inveterate insomniac reader, a repository of what she described as “the useless information encyclopedia.”

In my early years, we moved often, and lived in a number of places, including Hanford, Washington, Los Alamos, New Mexico, California, Denver, Casper, Wyoming, and the eastern plains of Colorado. Regardless of our location, however, I always found my way to a library; a “paradise,” an escape (a cool Bookmobile stopping by for a day in the 100-degree heat of the High Plains with a caring librarian was an escape to heaven!). The ideas planted in those experiences with libraries and books continued to blossom over the decades, and guided me to people, places and life choices in subtle but powerful ways.

My love of books and the written word continued into adulthood, through law school and into my professional career. My work with the Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources eventually gave me the opportunity to serve on the Standing Committee on the Law Library of Congress (SCLLOC) over a decade ago, and the experience of serving as its Chair from 2015–2018 was a profound privilege. The SCLLOC was created in 1932 and encourages the knowledge and love of the treasure trove of ancient, contemporary, domestic, and international law contained within the Library of Congress (LOC) Law Library. The LOC itself was Thomas Jefferson’s legacy from the early 1800s. Sadly, during the War of 1812, the LOC (and much of Washington) was burnt to the ground. A handful of Jefferson’s books survived and remain the backbone of the LOC (and can be viewed there today).

The LOC is congressionally and privately funded. Vast collections of books, maps, artwork, designs, and other materials are lovingly cared for, catalogued, studied, and made available in person or online to America and the world. As one of the great libraries of the world, with the British and Vatican Libraries and other major national libraries, it is the ultimate “jewel box,” where, for example, Stradivarius instruments are displayed all year and on one magical day of the year, actually played! Ancient, exquisite books may be savored in the Rare Books collection. The LOC is open to all. As the first public building in the United States with electric power, the LOC’s historic Jefferson Building and its Great Hall pay particular homage to electric power, energy, and the environment.

After all the hours spent over the years in a wide variety of libraries consuming words and ideas, I found myself reinvigorated by the honor of chairing for four years the ABA SCLLOC, and it reinforced the powerful impact libraries have had on my life. The events coordinated by the SCLLOC in celebration of the 2015 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the 2017 the Charter of the Forest; the 2019–20 centennial of the 19th Amendment, and the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower Compact in 2020 are all part of this journey.

Everyone should visit the LOC and the Law Library and the Rare Books Collection. There are a huge number of free resources available online, and librarians are there to support you! I encourage everyone to participate in the outreach and events organized by the ABA’s SCLLOC.

Even in recent times, libraries are always the first to experience disbanding or destruction when learning is squelched, obliterated, or revised. Yet, somehow great books survive over the millennia to be treasured in various sacred sanctuaries across the globe. But it requires people who care about them and the irreplaceable legacy they provide to protect and preserve them into the future.

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Sheila Hollis

Ms. Hollis is of counsel and chair of the Washington, D.C. office of Duane Morris LLP. She was chair of the ABA Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources (2000–2001) and Chair of the ABA Standing Committee on the Law Library of Congress (2015–2018 and 2019–2020). She may be reached at sshollis@duanemorris.com.