Introducing…Ellen Schaffer as the February FCIL Librarian of the Month

Schaffer photo1. Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Manhattan and never thought I would live anywhere else until I did.  Since 1973 when I left NYC, I’ve lived in 4 different countries!

2. Why did you select law librarianship as a career?

I first selected librarianship as a career that would allow me to use my languages. It was only later that I was fortunate enough to find my place in international law librarianship. I was working as a reference librarian at the Organization of American States and was asked to give a presentation on Latin American business resources at a Special Libraries Association’s annual meeting. I met Igor Kavass there. It’s a rather long story, but the short version is that with his advice, I ended up as the Foreign Law Librarian at the University of Miami. After one year there, I moved back to Washington DC as the International and Foreign Law Librarian at the Georgetown University Law Center. Every position I have held has allowed me to use my languages and has encouraged my interest in international relations.

3. When did you develop an interest in foreign, comparative, and international law?

I spent summers during high school in Oaxaca, Mexico and was a Latin American Studies major in college in Mexico and in the U.S. I was always interested in Latin America and foreign languages. My years working at the Organization of American States introduced me to the “world” of FCIL subjects.

4. Who is your current employer? How long have you worked there? 

After leaving the United Nations in Chile, I returned to the Washington DC area where I had lived and worked for so many years. In September 2012, I began to work part-time on projects at the Pence Law Library at American University’s Washington College of Law.

5. Do you speak any foreign languages? 

Principally Romance languages, but in particular, Spanish, some Portuguese, some French and then, some German.

6. What is your most significant professional achievement? 

There are two things that come to mind. I would mention the development of the international law collection at the Georgetown University Law Center’s law library. Building that collection over a 15 year period was a wonderful experience that taught me a great deal about foreign, comparative and international law. It was an exciting time to be at Georgetown and to work with a stellar faculty and library staff.

Then, I need to mention the FCIL-SIS Schaffer Grant for Foreign Law Librarians. In 2001, when I expressed my interest in establishing the grant to AALL’s Executive Director, there was no way to know how meaningful the grant would become to both its recipients and to the Association’s membership. Over the past years, there have been recipients from the Kyrgyz Republic, the Philippines, Georgia, Egypt, China, Australia, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Argentina, India, Norway and The Netherlands. We should know who the 2015 recipient is in the near future.

The grant recipients have all shared their knowledge and experience with other law librarians by making a presentation at an FCIL-sponsored meeting or event. Then, after the conference, the recipients have provided short article or report for the Fall issue of the FCIL-SIS newsletter. One welcome benefit that has developed over the years is that when one of our AALL members has had a need for help in locating information or publications from one of the countries represented by the Grant’s recipients, they have invariably been helpful and generous with their time and assistance.

7. What is your biggest food weakness? 

Anything salty.

8. What song makes you want to get up and sing/dance? 


9. What ability or skill do you most wish you had (that you don’t have already)? 

Over the past years, it would have been to know more German! At this point though, I would say that I wish I had learned to play a musical instrument.

10. Aside from the basic necessities, what is one thing you not go a day without? 

Well, I would say coffee … but for me, that would be a basic necessity.

11. Anything else you would like to share with us?

Carpe diem. You never know when a wonderful and totally unexpected opportunity might be just around the corner.

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