Ellen Schaffer has “always been interested in international things,” she told me over the phone from Germany when I called her yesterday. And now her interest in things international has taken her to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea where she is attempting to organize what she calls a “baby library.” The Tribunal was established in accordance with Article 287(1)(a) and Annex VI of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982 to deal with international disputes relating to the seas, their uses, and resources. The Tribunal consists of 21 judges who were elected by the States Parties to the Law of the Sea Convention on 1 August 1996. It is located in Hamburg in temporary quarters awaiting the completion of a beautiful new building on the Elbe River. How did she get there? She describes it as “an adventure.” It struck me that she is well-suited to adventure.
Ellen Schaffer began by studying foreign languages and contemplating a career in teaching Spanish. She quickly decided teaching was not for her and allowed her friends to convince her to go to library school. This turned out to be a happy choice. Since library school she has had only jobs that involved languages and international relations - the two areas that interest her most. What she loves about being a foreign and international law librarian is that “every day and every question are different.” Her work always seems to involve the very issues being written about in the “International Affairs” section of the newspaper.
She began her career as a librarian as a Romance Languages Descriptive Cataloger at the Library of Congress. When I winced at the thought of being a cataloger, she said that she thought it was a very good way to begin as a librarian, since it provided a very solid introduction to the tools of the trade, or bibliography. She then moved to the Columbus Memorial Library of the Organization of American States, where she was able to work in a multilingual environment.The work and the people were interesting and enjoyable, however, working for an international organization is much different than working for a university - there is not as much money for libraries and libraries are not necessarily a key function of the organization as they are for a university. After one particularly frustrating day, she decided she wanted more of what academia had to offer. She applied for a job at an academic law library, and, after talking to a friend who was a law librarian, she decided to accept a position at the University of Miami Law School. She missed Washington, D.C. and only stayed in Miami for one year, moving to the Georgetown University Law Library where she spent the next fifteen years developing the international and foreign collections.
Now she has moved from “Nirvana to a Pre-historic age” in terms of library sophistication. Her library at the Tribunal is small and funding is tight: she is working for an international organization again. She is challenged by the prospect of developing this library, but says “thank heaven for the Internet” and for her friends around the world. The library has no catalog and the books are not yet classified. She has no access to Interlibrary Loan - she relies on her own resourcefulness and the generosity of colleagues. The other day she paid a courtesy visit to a local University library and stopped at the Max Planck Institute on the way home to photocopy a section of a French law requested by one of the translators. The English version came via fax from a friend.
For those of you interested in the publications of the Tribunal, there is an agreement between the Tribunal and Kluwer Law International to publish the Basic Texts of the Tribunal as well as a Yearbook. The Tribunal does not yet have its own website, but hopes to in the future. Until that time, information by and about the Tribunal can be found at the UN website (http://www.un.org/Depts/los/).
Ellen Schaffer seemed to me to have always followed her interests in things international, and this course has led to very interesting jobs. She says that she is going to be calling on all her friends to help her in this current undertaking. In addition, she said that if any of you are weeding your international collections, please think of her before disposing of anything! I, for one, would be very happy to help her with whatever she needs. I can only admire someone so drawn to adventure.
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