September 10, 2021

Catholic University graduate alumna Michael Mellifera and student Magdalene Jensen spent their summers participating in the Library of Congress Junior Fellows Summer Internship Program. The program, which took place virtually this year, allows undergraduate and graduate students an opportunity to work on a diverse range of projects under the mentorship of Library staff.

Improving Access to Justice

Mellifera graduated in May with her master’s in library and information science, with a concentration in law librarianship. Previously, she had earned her bachelor’s in philosophy pre-law from the University in 2019. She first visited the Library of Congress as part of a special tour with the University Honors Program while she was earning her bachelor’s degree.

“We learned about the Library of Congress’s architectural design, its history, and collections,” Mellifera said. “There was no substitute for seeing the main reading room and the great hall in person with its beautiful vaulted ceilings, intricate decorations, and beautiful murals that truly make you look up in wonder.”

This summer, Mellifera spent her fellowship working in the Law Library of Congress’s Digital Resources Division, which holds 2.9 million volumes of federal, state, and foreign materials, including codes, constitutions, gazettes, legal reports, treatises, serials, and laws from all historical periods. As part of her fellowship, Mellifera worked to develop an internal content management system to make historic legal reports written by Law Library staff easier to find. As a result of her fellowship, 2,000 born-digital private reports published between 1987 and the present have been added to a web-based collaboration software, enabling them to be more easily accessed.

This newly enriched Legal Report Archive collection contains reports spanning 40 broad legal topics in 195 legal jurisdictions, including reports on the human rights and civil liberties of asylum seekers, the manufacture of nuclear weapons and nonproliferation treaties, the prohibition of slavery and indentured servitude, electronic surveillance and statutory protection over digital privacy, and the foreign decisions of constititutional courts in countries around the world.

Mellifera feels passionately about the importance of law librarianship and legal information that can be easily accessed by everyone. She knows that the legal system can be intimidating for many people. Having resources available to help for free can be a life-changing experience.

“Access to justice suggests that everyone, even those with severely limited financial resources, legal knowledge, and time, and especially those who have been excluded from information due to historic injustices should be able to navigate the legal system and obtain a just outcome,” she said. “The access to justice movement is concerned with removing barriers that prevent people from exercising their rights … and increasing the range of legal services and self-help available for litigants.”

Thanks to her experiences during the fellowship, Mellifera said she has gained numerous new skills related to information architecture, website design, data analysis, and more that will help her in her legal librarianship career.

Bringing History to Life

Jensen, who earned a bachelor’s in history before entering the University’s Library and Information Science program, said she was interested in working at the Library of Congress because of her passion for public history.

“I’m always interested in learning how to teach history in a noneducational environment. How can you make it engaging and how do you make primary sources interesting?” she said.
As part of her fellowship, Jensen worked in the Library’s manuscript division. Her projects included analyzing web metrics for the library’s digital collections and compiling a literature guide on presidential family correspondence — specifically letters between presidents and their children. She also helped answer research questions submitted to the Library’s Ask a Librarian online resource, which was founded during the pandemic.

“It’s a really wide range of questions that are submitted,” Jensen said. “Some people are asking simple questions or looking for a specific document, while others might be emailing for genealogy purposes — trying to find information about their relatives.”

For Jensen, the fellowship gave her a deeper appreciation for the importance of historical objects and how they can help us better understand the past.

“We have all these items — letters, photographs, even the most random things like hair in our collection,” she said. “All of those items help us understand how our nation got to this point and the narrative that got us here. It helps us understand people more, how we have made our decisions in the past, and the things we can learn from in the future.”

Even though her fellowship was virtual, Jensen said it was still thrilling to work with historical objects of such importance.

“When you see a historical object, it’s so much more real than what you see in a textbook,” she said. “You can learn all about George Washington and that’s great, but when you look at a letter he wrote in cursive or read letters he wrote to his friends and family, it helps you to imagine who he truly was.”

Katie Bahr, Assistant Director of Media Relations and Communications. Bahr can be reached at bahr@cua.edu.

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