Photo by Bill Denison
Judith Gaskell, AM’75, started
a new job in August. After 20 years as director of DePaul University’s
Rinn Law Library in Chicago, Gaskell became the tenth librarian
of the United States Supreme Court. The third woman to hold the
post, Gaskell—who earned her bachelor’s degree at Carleton
College (1967) and her J.D. at DePaul (1980)—beat out three
other finalists in a competition that included interviews with Justices
Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The interviews weren’t
as intimidating as she’d expected, Gaskell, a longtime Indiana
Dunes resident, told the Northwest Indiana News, in part
because she’d already met Scalia when they both worked at
Chicago’s Law School: “So we talked a little about Chicago—the
weather. We eased into the tougher questions.”
Gaskell, who taught advanced legal research at
DePaul, first worked as law librarian at the Chicago law firm Sonnenschein,
Carlin, Nath and Rosenthal. After six years at the University’s
law library as a reference librarian and then associate director,
she joined DePaul in 1983. At the Supreme Court she supervises a
staff of 25, including four full-time reference librarians, and
oversees a 450,000-volume collection.
What it’s like to
work at the Supreme Court: The DePaul Law Library is very
beautiful, but the Court Library has a stunning Reading Room with
incredible oak carving. Because the Court Library is very quiet
and secure—with few public patrons—I feel like I’m
working in a museum.
All in a day’s work:
I really don’t have a typical day because my work is primarily
administrative and can vary from working on budgets to working with
staff on planning and problem solving to giving tours of the library
to visitors. Some days are very peaceful, and others race by.
After the justices’ law clerks, members of the Supreme Court
Bar use the library most. A few of the justices do their own research
on evenings and weekends.
The library’s most
famous patrons: I’m often asked if I see the justices
regularly. So far I have met seven of the nine justices, and I see
them primarily at oral arguments or special events.
Most-often pulled cases:
Volumes of Supreme Court reports are pulled and delivered
frequently, usually during oral arguments, but most of the legal
research is done online and covers any and all jurisdictions.
Biggest challenge facing
the Court Library: The same challenge facing most law libraries
today—how to develop a balanced collection to provide information
in whatever format is needed or requested as quickly and as authoritatively
as possible. And to do this within budget constraints.
Biggest surprise about
working at the Court Library: Finally, no complaints about
photocopiers. Plus a much smaller group of patrons.
Special perk: I
am very proud that, because I am a court officer, my name will be
on the first page of every volume of Supreme Court reports published
during the time I work here.
In her spare time:
Although I am still enthusiastic about natural landscaping and land
preservation, I have a very small space for planting in D.C. This
spring I plan to get involved with groups who are working to preserve
and restore areas in and around D.C, so that I can stay close to
the land and learn the vegetation of the Mid-Atlantic region. And
I love to visit the National Botanic Garden, which has a native
plant garden in one of its courtyards.