Aslihan Bulut ‘00, who was appointed Law Librarian of Congress in August, 2021, manages the policy and operations of the Law Library of Congress, which is the largest collection of legal materials in the world.
She also concurrently serves as the Deputy Law Librarian for Collections and directly oversees the Global Legal Collection Directorate in establishing priorities, design, launch, and execution of the Law Library’s initiatives related to physical and digital collections.
Bulut earned her bachelor’s degree from Montclair State University, her Master of Library and Information Science (now the Master of Information) from SC&I in 2000, and her J.D. from the City University of New York School of Law in 2005.
Expressing her gratitude for her Rutgers education, Bulut said, “The value of my degree from Rutgers is as valuable to me as any treasure collection in any library. The library as an institution in our society is so interwoven in our communities that we take this amazing entity for granted, because we have come to expect that every public, academic, private, and special library out there is there for the body of patrons it serves in that community. This level of access to information is an underappreciated privilege that we enjoy as Americans, but it is something that one appreciates as an informed citizen and emphatically during one’s training to become a librarian.”
Read our Q&A below with Bulut to learn more about her challenging and exciting career and the many ways she traces her success back to SC&I.
What are some of your duties and responsibilities as Law Librarian of Congress?
First and foremost, we support Congress. Drawing on its unrivaled collection of domestic, foreign, and international legal materials, the Law Library’s team of highly experienced librarians, law librarians, and foreign law specialists provides Congress with timely, comprehensive research for domestic, foreign, comparative, and international law. We also assist the U.S. executive agencies and the judiciary, which makes us the only Library of Congress’ office to serve all three branches of government. Something we are very proud of. Our Public Services Division experts provide reference services to the public. When the pandemic affected our operations we quickly and successfully adapted to the changing environment with a focus on creating, improving and enriching the Law Library’s multiple online resources. All of our classes and webinars are available online, and we have focused on major digitization projects to make our collections and services freely available to all of our patrons and researchers across the globe.
The Law Library serves as the nation’s custodian of a legal and legislative collection of nearly 3 million items from all countries and legal systems around the world (more than 300 foreign and international jurisdictions). Sixty percent of the collection is foreign law, consisting of primary and secondary sources of law in original languages. We acquire, maintain, organize, preserve, and provide access to the collection in all formats: print, microform, and digital. Our working reference collection consists of 27,000 volumes in the public Reading Room, including an extensive treatise collection, and approximately 23,000 volumes in the Global Legal Resource Room, while the Rare Book Collection, our treasure collection, consists of approximately 90,000 volumes of books and bound manuscripts issued prior to 1801.
The Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest, most diverse library collection in the world, and it seeks to spark imagination and creativity and further human understanding and wisdom by providing access to knowledge through its magnificent collections, programs and exhibitions. I am proud, grateful, and humbled to be a part of this institution and help carry out its mission.
How did Rutgers Library Science master’s degree help you get to where you are today?
My time at Rutgers, the education I received and the teachers and peers I met, led me to where I am today. Simple as that.
I have been in love with the written word since I was just a little girl, and one of my first jobs was in my local public library as a reference page. I have to thank and acknowledge my sister, Sarah, also a Rutgers graduate, for encouraging me to apply to that first library job while I was still in high school. But, it was only after obtaining my master’s degree when I realized fully the true meaning and appreciation for the profession. We can be problem solvers, researchers, social workers, information literacy teachers, and so much more all in one. At its core, what I love is the principle of the profession being above all service-oriented, and secondarily the mission of the institutions in which we serve to share in that principle of service and access to information. In fact, the ‘S’ in MLS used to stand for service in the degree that Rutgers offered. These are the ideals that were imprinted in me at a young age and validated throughout my education and career.
What skills and experience did you obtain from the Masters Library Science Program?
While I had already decided on my career path when I arrived at Rutgers, my positive encounters with professors and classmates gave me a deep sense that I was pursuing a promising and meaningful career. That is the message I would share with all MLS students.
Was there any specific professor, class, or project that influenced your career path and helped you get where you are today?
Indeed, I remember very fondly Prof. Pam Richards, who was a brilliant scholar and a gifted teacher. For a professor to have both is not as common as one would expect, and after earning multiple degrees, I’ve come to appreciate this much more with time. I still have my syllabus, reading materials, and my notes from this class after all these years, because I valued her teachings and her ability to intertwine vast scholarship from all disciplines to our profession. She encouraged us to question and seek the answer from all available sources and further question the validity, authority, and perspective, which in essence is what librarians do to best serve our patrons.
We often hear the mistaken idea that everything is on the Internet. There may be a lot there, but much of what’s there is untested. I like to say that the Internet is the good, the bad, and the ugly. I believe that as librarianship continues to evolve, in a positive way, the evolution of information and information management creates new opportunities for our profession.
So my advice is don’t short-change yourself: please recognize how versatile our degree is. For me, it has given me a career that has been exciting, and I have enjoyed every step along the way.
Currently, you work at the world’s largest library, how did you get to where you are today?
I have worked in libraries and information management my entire career. Prior to joining the Law Library in 2019, I served as the Director of Academic Services in the California State University system at the San Jose State University, King Library campus. Before that, I served as the Program Coordinator and Librarian for Foreign, Comparative and International Law at the Langdell Law Library of Harvard Law School for over seven years, where I led a team of professional librarians in coordinating all of the library services to the graduate students enrolled in SJD (doctorate) and LLM (master’s) programs at Harvard Law School. I coordinated projects involving the international, foreign, and comparative collections at Langdell Law Library and was the library editor for SHARIAsource. In addition to selecting for jurisdictions across Central, South and Southeast Asia, I provided research services to Harvard law faculty members, including preparing bibliographies, and conducting extensive legal, academic, interdisciplinary and policy related research.
I also worked as a Reference Librarian and Lecturer in Law at the Arthur W. Diamond Law Library of Columbia University, School of Law. There, I completed year-long rotations as the Interlibrary Loan Department Supervisor, First-Year Legal Research and Writing Coordinator, Westlaw/Lexis Liaison and Foreign, Comparative and International Law coordinator. I provided reference services in Anglo-American, International, and Foreign Law to faculty, students and all other patrons, including legislative histories, and in-depth and general research. I helped develop and taught legal research instruction class for the first year law students, created and taught Summer Law Associate Research Refresher program, and wrote various research guides on topics like human rights and Islamic law. Prior to all of this and since high school I have worked in many other public and academic libraries through college and graduate school.
And of course, since my earliest days, I tried to remain active in various local, regional, national, and international library associations. However, what I value and have taken away from every position I’ve held are the strong friendships I’ve developed with amazing colleagues and what I have learned from all of them along the way.