Tributes to Rob Britt, East Asian law librarian extraordinaire, d. June 23, 2023

I was very sorry to hear of the passing last month of Rob Britt. Rob was the librarian in charge of Japanese law materials, and later all East Asian law materials, at the University of Washington School of Law library, and I knew him for many years during my time at UW. He was greatly liked and greatly respected in both the East Asian law community and the librarian community, and many tributes have come in. I’ve collected them and present them below, starting with an obituary written by his longtime colleague, Mary Whisner, and then proceeding in alphabetical order.

Mary Whisner, Librarian Emeritus, University of Washington School of Law

I share the sad news that Rob Britt died on June 23, 2023, at home with his siblings, their spouses, and his wife, Sharon. Rob had been diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2022; it probably stemmed from an asbestos exposure decades ago.

Rob had a long career in the East Asian Law Department of the Gallagher Law Library, where he worked from 1987 to 2019. His family reports that Rob mentioned many of his colleagues to them so often that they also felt connected to these colleagues.

Rob grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and earned a B.A. in English literature at Bowling Green State and a master’s in teaching English as a second language from Southern Illinois University. After teaching English in Japan for four years and ESL at a Linfield College for two years, Rob came to the University of Washington’s Jackson School of International Studies, where he earned a master’s with a concentration in Japan in 1987.

In his years in the law library, Rob handled all aspects of Japanese legal materials, from selection to ordering to cataloging to reference. Later Rob took on those functions for Chinese and Korean legal materials as well. He prepared thorough research guides for the law library’s website and provided guidance on Japanese legal research in law school classes. Rob helped countless students, faculty members, and visiting scholars with their research. He was also sought after for his expertise beyond the law school, taking calls from people around the country who needed assistance with Japanese legal research.

Rob was active in the Council on East Asian Libraries (an organization with members throughout North America). Among other things, he worked to improve the way U.S. library catalogs (including the UW’s) displayed Japanese characters. His publications included Japanese Laws in English: An Index to the EHS Law Bulletin Series (2d ed. 2000), an index that greatly improved access to Japanese laws in English translation.

Rob was a kind and generous colleague. He will be missed. Following Rob’s wishes, there will be no public memorial. Please contact Mary Whisner ( if you would like Rob and Sharon’s home address.

Jim Cheng, Director, C.V. Starr East Asian Library at Columbia University

Rob and I formed a long time professional relationship and friendship. In 1996, I was hired as a retrospective cataloger to work with Rob and Bill to catalog the backlog of Chinese and Japanese records at Gallagher Law Library right after I graduated from the UW Library School. Then, again I worked with Rob in various CEAL committees until his retirement in 2019. He has been a dedicated colleague and close friend. I will miss him.

Donald Clarke, Professor, George Washington University Law School; Professor, University of Washington School of Law, 1988-2004

I remember Rob with great fondness for him as a person and respect and admiration for him as a professional. He (along with many others at the wonderfully service-oriented UW Law Library) truly made the UW law library an outstanding example of what a library could be. I learned a lot from him about how to find information and he made me a better researcher.

Daniel Foote, Project Professor (特任教授) and Professor Emeritus, The University of Tokyo; former Dan Fenno Henderson Professor of East Asian Legal Studies, University of Washington School of Law

The news of Rob Britt’s passing has hit me very hard.

I joined the University of Washington School of Law faculty in 1988, as the most junior of three faculty members who specialized in Japanese law, along with Dan Fenno Henderson (who was then on the verge of retirement) and John Haley. Rob was already at UW when I arrived; he had begun work in the Comparative Law Department (later called the East Asian Law Department) at the UW Law Library in 1987.

In May 1989, a few months after I arrived, Bill McCloy moved from Indiana University to become head of the Comparative Law Department. Rob had lived in Japan for four years; he had an M.A. in Japanese studies and was fluent in Japanese. Bill had lived in both Taiwan and Korea; he knew Chinese and Korean, and he also had extensive library experience. Any library with East Asian collections would have been fortunate to have had either one of them. The UW Law Library was doubly blessed. Together, they constituted a formidable team.

Let me take back that adjective, though. Powerful they were, but they were by no means formidable or intimidating.

At that time, the UW School of Law was located in Condon Hall. My office was on the 7th floor. The Asian law collection was housed on the 6th floor. Rob and Bill occupied an office in the middle of the 6th floor; and LL.M. candidates in the Asian Law Program all had carrels next to the windows on that floor. I visited the Asian law collection so frequently I must have seemed like a regular presence on the 6th floor. I made numerous research requests – in my case mainly to Rob; and I chatted frequently with both him and Bill. Many of the LL.M. candidates spent so much time at their carrels they were indeed regular presences on the 6th floor; and they – along with J.D. candidates, visiting scholars, lawyers, and others with inquiries relating to Asian law – made numerous research requests to both Rob and Bill and chatted with them often. Needless to say, the interactions among Rob, Bill, and the LL.M. candidates contributed greatly to creating a sense of community.

As with all great law librarians, Rob and Bill never treated the requests as a pain or an unwanted imposition on their time – no matter whether the request was extremely basic or highly complicated. To the contrary, they treated all inquiries with respect; and they made the users, whatever their status, feel welcome. (As an aside, while this was very much in keeping with the strong user-service orientation of the entire UW Law Library at the time, it was far different from my experience when I served as visiting professor at a certain prestigious East Coast law school. There, when I made a request, the librarian looked up at me, said, “Who are you? Faculty?,” and when I said “Yes,” he added, “Oh, visiting. Right?” He proceeded to grudgingly take down my request; I never heard back.)

For over three decades, Rob provided outstanding service to Asian Law LL.M. candidates, visiting scholars, J.D. candidates, and members of the general public, as well as researchers and students at many other institutions in the U.S. and throughout the world. He singlehandedly prepared guides to research in Japanese legal materials; and, for librarians across the U.S., he was regarded as the guru when it came to questions about Japanese legal materials.

I could go on with many more examples of Rob’s great impact on research and the understanding of Asian law. I’ll leave that for others. Instead, I’ll turn to a couple of enduring memories. One set of memories relates to his smile – or, rather, his smiles. When I think of Rob I see a smile on his face. Sometimes it was a bemused smile. Sometimes a quizzical smile, with a cocked eyebrow. Most of the time, though, it was a broad, crinkly smile, often accompanied by a chuckle.

Perhaps my most vivid – and poignant – memory, however, is of an occasion when he and Bill were not smiling. That memory relates to a conversation I had with the two of them, sometime in late 1999, in their 6th floor office. At the time, it had just been announced that I had accepted a position at The University of Tokyo and John Haley had accepted a position at Washington University in St. Louis, and that both of us would be leaving UW at the end of the 1999-2000 academic year. Rob and Bill were in a state verging on despair, wondering whether our departures spelled the end of Asian law at UW – and, in the relatively near future, their own positions. I did my best to assure them that the legacy of the program, coupled with the world-leading Asian law collection at the Law Library, meant that, even with our departure, the Law School’s continued commitment to Asian law was a given. I’m not sure whether I succeeded in my efforts to reassure them, but I take comfort in the fact they both enjoyed long careers at UW thereafter. I can only wish Rob had had many more years to enjoy his retirement.

John O. Haley, Professor, University of Washington School of Law, 1974-2000

Rob was an irreplaceable member of the Asian Law Center staff.. His work ensured that the Asian Law collection was among the best outside of Japan.

Hana Kim, University of Toronto, Director of the Cheng Yu Tung East Asian Library

I am deeply saddened by the loss of our dear colleague, Rob Britt. His passing has left a void that will be felt by many of us. Throughout our work together on CEAL committees and task forces, I had the privilege of witnessing Rob’s genuine love for our community. He was always ready to lend a helping hand, and his commitment to our profession and field was truly inspiring. Rob’s presence will be dearly missed, and his legacy will continue to guide and inspire us. My heartfelt condolences go out to Rob’s family and friends during this difficult time. May his memory be a source of strength and inspiration to all of us who had the privilege of knowing him.

Tang Li, Acting Head, East Asian Library, Chinese Studies Librarian and Associate University Librarian, University of Southern California

I am deeply saddened by the tragic news of Rob’s passing. He was an individual of extraordinary kindness, helpfulness, patience, and support for everyone around him. I recall seeing him relentlessly providing technical support during my first CEAL meeting in 2009. Over the years, I had the privilege of working closely with him as a member of the CEAL Technology Committee, and later as the Chair designate, until his retirement in 2019.

Rob’s unwavering commitment, dedication, and patience were evident throughout his tenure as the Technology Committee Chair. He graciously imparted his knowledge and provided comprehensive documentation to ensure a smooth transition when he passed on the chairship to me. I hold great admiration for his tireless efforts in this role over an extended period.

It is still hard to believe that Rob is no longer among us. I will deeply miss him, and my thoughts and prayers go out to his loved ones. May he find eternal peace.

Dana Raigrodski, Associate Teaching Professor, Director, General Law LL.M., Asian & Comparative Law LL.M. Director, Summer Institute in Transnational Law and Practice University of Washington School of Law

Rob was a wonderful colleague, and in his quiet and unassuming ways was a force behind our East Asian Law Library collection and research support, especially after Bill McCloy retired and Rob remained solo at EALD (there is a great photo of Rob and Bill from the early 1990s in the ALC 50th Booklet below).

I and other colleagues at the Asian Law Center had a particularly fun opportunity to work closely with Rob in 2013 when putting together the ALC 50th Anniversary booklet and other related commemorative publications, and Rob went deep into the archives to pull historical photos, timelines and stories about the rich history of the Asian Law Center. (See Rob’s great finds and the ALC timeline he helped create at 50th Anniversary Commemorative Booklet for the Asian Law Center by UW School of Law:

What an untimely loss.

Zhijia Shen, Director, Tateuchi East Asia Library, University of Washington

I am deeply saddened to hear of Rob’s passing. I still vividly remember being at his retirement celebration in 2019. Rob was not only a wonderful colleague but also an exceptional East Asian law librarian. My first encounter with him was through our work at the Council on East Asian Libraries several decades ago, and our professional collaboration grew stronger after I joined UW in 2006. Rob had a remarkable proficiency in library technology and was always eager to lend a helping hand and share his knowledge generously.

As the sole librarian working in Asian law before his retirement, Rob took on an immense workload and excelled in developing online tools for Chinese, Japanese, and Korean law resources. His dedication and hard work benefited countless researchers and students in the field. At the Tateuchi East Asia Library, Rob wasn’t just a colleague; he was a great friend to many of us. He actively participated in our events, from joyous Lunar New Year celebrations to heartfelt staff retirements, making every occasion brighter with his presence.

The loss of Rob leaves a void that will be difficult to fill. I will always cherish the memories of his kindness, warm smiles, and the beautiful friendship we shared. He had a lasting impact on all those who knew him, and his memory will live on through the many lives he touched. May we find solace in the wonderful memories we have of him during this difficult time.

Veronica Taylor, Professor of Law and Regulation, Australia National University; Director, UW Asian Law Center, 2000-2010

Rob Britt is remembered internationally by Asian Law scholars with enormous gratitude.

Along with his long-time colleague, Bill McCloy, he made the Asian Law collection in the Law Library at UW a destination in its own right for researchers from around the world. Japanese researchers would regularly comment that the collection – and Rob – were far superior to their own universities’ libraries. In Japanese Law, he quietly developed tools and reference guides that were well ahead of their time. He generously answered questions from around the world via email. Most of all, he welcomed visitors with a quiet, warm smile and matched their level of curiosity and drive to find the legal source or the missing piece of the intellectual puzzle. He was an outstanding colleague to the Asian Law Program (now Center) faculty, PhD students and Visiting Scholars, and we miss him greatly.

Kellye Y. Testy, former Dean and Professor, University of Washington School of Law

Rob was the epitome of an excellent colleague. Not only was he incredibly adept in his specialty, which others will elaborate upon, he also made UW Law stronger through his generous service and stewardship. Always of good intentions, Rob was a kind man with high standards who led by example. I learned a lot from Rob about our Library and Asian Law Center. He made us a better community in countless ways.