Featured Member – Bernice Bernstein

Bernice Bernstein Retires from the Maryland State Law Library

By Catherine I. McGuire
Outreach Services Law Librarian
Maryland State Law Library

When Bernice Bernstein joined the then-named Maryland State Library on June 29, 1966 as Assistant Librarian, she planned to stay for a maximum of five years. Little did she know that she would be retiring, with more than eight times her original goal, in February 2011. In her more than 40 years with the State Judiciary, Bernice has seen a number of significant changes. She has worked under three Directors (Nelson Moulter, Mike Miller, and Steve Anderson.) She has seen several former law clerks become judges. And she has seen the Library through one major move and several slightly smaller renovation upheavals, including asbestos removal and the construction of the Special Collections Room.

In June 1966 when Bernice began working at the Library, the institution was housed in the Court of Appeals building in downtown Annapolis, across from the Capital. The stately facilities – three tiers with glass floors and steel stairs – were used by members of the Legislature and the Judiciary together. Bernice took the place of Ruth Burton, who had moved on to become the first head of the newly-established Legislative Services Library. In addition to her regular library duties, Bernice also handled requisitions and supplies for the legislature.

Almost simultaneously with her 1966 start, the Court of Special Appeals was established, with the swearing in of the first Court of Special Appeals judges in January 1967. Bernice recalls that the new Special Appeals judges had chambers in the Jeffrey Building on Francis Street, which ironically also housed the new Legislative Services Library.

When it was decided to tear down the old Court of Appeals building to make room for a new Legislative Services Building downtown, the Library moved to the new Courts of Appeal Building, in August 1972. The Library staff, which consisted at that time of five full-time and two part-time employees, helped by a few summer students, packed the entire collection using a color code system developed by Bernice’s co-worker, Dee Van Nest. Special attention and precautions were taken to pack and move the John James Audubon Birds of America elephant folios.

The formal relationship of the Library with the Judiciary was established in 1978, when it took on its present name of the Maryland State Law Library.

The Library’s collection up through the 1970’s had consisted mainly of print and microform materials. With the introduction of computer technology, the Library’s operation changed substantially. Bernice’s entire operation went from a manual system to a much more sophisticated system allowing faster input of information and a quicker response to inquiries, all of which she considers a plus.

One down side to the growth of computer technology, in Bernice’s opinion, has been a loss of personal interaction with customers and co-workers. Bernice remembers that once upon a time, she knew most of the regular Judiciary patrons because they came to the Library in person. Now that they can access much of their research from chambers, the Library staff and Judiciary patrons interact much more frequently via email and telephone, and less frequently in person.

The basic arrangement of the collection has stayed the same, with periodic shifting as needed by the expansion of various series. Over 40 years, the Library has added numerous online research products to enhance and expand the collection.

Over more than 40 years, Bernice has accumulated her own ‘library’ of special memories. Two stand out the most for her.

The first is when Bernice was expecting her first child. On Friday, May 6, 1977, she worked late to clear up any details before the birth. Mike Miller, Director of the Law Library at that time, mentioned Bernice’s circumstances to Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy, who then sent Bernice a personal letter congratulating her on the happy event and thanking her for her dedication.

The second memory is of her nomination by Court of Special Appeals Judge Arrie W. Davis for the Daily Record’s Unsung Legal Heroes awards program. On May 8, 2008, Bernice received word that she had been selected as one of that year’s recipients. The award is, she says, the highlight of her career.

In her years at the Library, Bernice has made many dear friends. To this day she stays in close touch with some of her original colleagues, Joan Saalwachter Princeotta, Bev Mattheau Roberts, and Pat Phillips Bucheimer.

Bernice will miss the people at the Library and the Judiciary. She says she will even miss the work. A self-described “regimented individual” who has always been “more career-minded than domesticated,” she knows the change to a more relaxed lifestyle will take some adjustment. She looks forward, however, to having more time with family and friends, and especially to not having to drive on icy winter roads. Bernice is even thinking about learning to cook!