When Jennifer Locke started her job at the Maine State Law & Legislative Reference Library (LLRL), there wasn’t a single computer. Smoking indoors was normal, and one of the most contentious issues of the 112th Legislature was prohibiting it in public and in the workplace. Opponents of nuclear power, who had been trying for years to close the Maine Yankee nuclear power plant, finally passed a referendum to restrict disposal of radioactive waste. When Jennifer started here, the legislative history of either issue would’ve been delivered on a book truck. Today, the legislative history of both can be found in our digital repository, along with all Maine laws, legislation, chamber records, and statutes published since 1820.
Jennifer is our library’s longest serving librarian, and a treasure of institutional history. But her story in the Maine State House doesn’t begin in the library. As the daughter of a 4-term legislator, she remembers napping on the sofa in the House Speaker’s office and eating snacks with her brother and sister in the legislators retiring room. Jennifer started as a part-time circulation assistant in February 1985 and was eventually hired full-time as our government documents librarian (a position she still holds). In 1985, LLRL was a relatively new institution. Established by statute in 1971 as a nonpartisan office of the Maine Legislature, we had been part of the Maine State Library for 132 years. Our mandate is to provide “a comprehensive reference service on legislative problems for all members of the Legislature and its committees, equally and impartially” and “a law library for the use of all agencies of State Government, the judiciary, attorneys and citizens of Maine.”
LLRL is located in the North Wing of the Maine State House. Patrons from the 1970s would recognize the same stacks, tables, chairs, carrel desks, bookcases, and newsstand. If they’ve visited LLRL in the past 40 years, they’ll also recognize Beastie, our 27-foot-long philodendron, which Jennifer has tended since 2003. Jennifer has seen the library’s patrons change over the years. Before online legal research platforms were widely available, LLRL was full of private practice and government attorneys paging through huge sets of case reporters, legal citators, and treatises. Today, we serve most of our patrons over email, and our requests from citizens with legal questions have increased.
Every morning during the legislative session, Jennifer picks up bills and amendments from the document room and files them in the library. In Maine, we call our bills “legislative documents”, or LDs. The Legislature has considered over 42,000 of them in the past 37 years. Jennifer also maintains our Reference Data Book, which contains detailed records of frequently requested information, such as dates and length of sessions, acts of apportionment, and the composition of the Legislature. The library’s reference staff fields the broadest range of research requests from legislators and legislative staff. Many involve past actions of the Legislature – proposed bills, legislative histories of acts and statutes, and precedence for procedures on the chamber floors.
Legislative staff are critical to the preservation of the legislative institution. Legislators, parties, and controversial issues come and go, but permanent, nonpartisan staff ensure that the institution continues and improves. This is especially true of a legislative library, which is responsible for collecting, preserving, and providing access to the documents created by the lawmaking process. Jennifer’s service to the Maine Legislature has been an important contribution to this legacy.