As a kid hooked on Nancy Drew mysteries, Aslihan Bulut was disappointed that her public library in Paterson, New Jersey, did not own every volume in the series. Born in Turkey, Bulut SCILS’00 had emigrated to the United States with her family in 1985 when she was 10 years old and learned English by reading Curious George books. But when she discovered she could order the missing mysteries through the interlibrary loan system, the revelation opened a door to unlimited reading possibilities and ignited a lifelong love affair with libraries.
Her heart’s desire eventually led her to Rutgers, where she earned a master of library and information science degree. After getting her law degree at the City University of New York, Bulut held librarian positions at Harvard Law School and the Columbia University School of Law. In August 2021, she was appointed law librarian of Congress, where she oversees the Law Library’s policies and operations.
The collection spans law books, primary sources for federal statutes, treatises and reference works on federal and international law, and rare documents, such as a 17th-century pardon on parchment paper granted by Charles I of England. The library’s guiding principle, Bulut says, is to spark imagination and creativity and further human understanding and wisdom through its collections, programs, and exhibitions.
Here, Bulut talks about the Law Library of Congress’s holdings and how Rutgers shaped her career.
Tell us a little about the Law Library of Congress.
The Law Library is the nation’s custodian of legal and legislative collections, close to 3 million items from countries and legal systems around the world. Sixty percent of the collection is related to foreign law, not domestic. It consists of both primary and secondary sources of law in their original languages. One unique thing about the Law Library, unlike any other division in the Library of Congress, is that we serve all three branches of government, which is something we are very proud of.
How much of the collection is available to the public?
Our collection is available to the public in person. All you have to do is get a library card and request an appointment to come to our reading room. The library also gives researchers access to materials in the rare books collection that can be served without harm to the item.
The library is proud of the legacy collection that the institution has built over its 190 years of existence. But we are also grateful to continue adding new and fascinating items to the collection. One recent example is a stunning 15th-century manuscript on the laws of war for medieval knights, L’Arbre des Batailles by Honorat Bovet. Another item is a fascinating legal document from 17th-century Nantucket, Massachusetts, featuring the signatures of two women who were leaders in their communities, Mary Coffin Starbuck and a Wampanoag Sachem named Wunnatuckquannum.
Our digitized content is accessible on our portal at law.gov and at the Library of Congress main portal, loc.gov, and our Public Services Division assists with any reference questions submitted via the Ask a Librarian page at https://ask.loc.gov/law/, as well as phone inquiries and in person, in the Law Library’s Reading Room.
What are your responsibilities?
I oversee establishing priorities and designing, launching, and executing all our initiatives related to physical and digital collections, as well as outreach to our constituents—our patrons, Congress, and the public.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
My colleagues and our mission. I am surrounded by an amazing staff who have decades of experience. Our mission is to provide authoritative legal research, reference and instruction services, and access to this collection. Our vision is to achieve global awareness of not only U.S., but foreign, comparative, and international law. I am proud, grateful, and humbled to be a part of this institution and to help carry out its mission.
Why did you choose to attend Rutgers?
As far as library school programs go, there wasn’t much that was as high quality as what Rutgers offered me. The curriculum, the faculty, the reputation—all drew me to Rutgers.
You got an undergraduate degree in biology from Montclair State University. How did you go from that to a library and information science degree at Rutgers?
I had worked in libraries since high school and throughout college. All my managers and mentors really encouraged me to consider library school. I was grappling between medical school and law school. I felt that a library degree and being a good researcher would assist me regardless of what profession I would ultimately choose.
Do any Rutgers professors or classes stand out for you?
I really cherished being a student of Professor Pam Richards. [Richards died in 1999.] I truly valued how she intertwined every discipline with librarianship. She encouraged us to be inquisitive and to look at things from every perspective, which is the essence of librarianship: questioning the validity, the authority, and the perspective of the information as you assist the patron before you.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.