This week’s interview is with Pam Russell, Legislative Counsel in our Congressional Relations Office. I’ve enjoyed working with Pam on a number of occasions. She often accompanies the THOMAS team when we brief House and Senate staffers on updates to THOMAS. Pam is another example of an attorney in the Library of Congress that works outside the Law Library.
I grew up in Hudson, Ohio, in the beautiful Western Reserve area settled by pioneers from New England, and moved to frigid Wausau, Wisconsin with my parents near the end of my junior year in high school. Since my two older brothers were already in or nearly in college in Ohio, I briefly became an only child. I learned to love winter and went to Ripon College, a small liberal arts school in Wisconsin. At one point, librarian was at the top of my list of future careers.
What is your academic/professional history?
I worked briefly after college for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, then was accepted at and attended Law School at UW, graduating in 1983. My first job out of law school was as a judicial clerk with a circuit court judge in Madison, then I worked as an attorney with the Wisconsin Legislative Council for 9 years until my husband and I moved to D.C. for his career.
Leg. Council was sort of the moral equivalent of CRS, but only about 35 people, mostly attorneys. In addition to drafting bills and providing non-partisan, objective legal analysis for the state legislature, we staffed standing committees and special “study committees” that intensively worked on legislative issues with a full complement of stakeholders sitting at the table. I was pregnant when we moved to D.C. so it took a little while to get acclimated and find a job; I’ve been a legislative counsel at the Library of Congress in the Congressional Relations Office since 1994.
How would you describe your job to other people?
The Congressional Relations Office is usually the first main point of contact for Members of Congress and congressional staff for information about the Library of Congress and its collections and programs. We spend a lot of time informing the Hill about Library services and programs, as well as the ways we can serve their constituents.
We try to have a deep understanding of programs all across the Library. I also sift through a lot of legislation in order to inform Library managers and staff about things going on in Congress that may impact our programs, and work with the Office of General Counsel and the Office of the Chief Financial Officer on the Library’s legislative requests.
Why did you want to work at the Library of Congress?
Being a legislative attorney is a bit of an odd niche to practice in. Working at the Library of Congress was the best fit based on my background with the Wisconsin legislature. Plus it had just opened a great day care center.
What is the most interesting fact you’ve learned about the Library of Congress?
The scale of what people do here every day of the week has been mind boggling to me … how much new stuff comes in and how we cope with it so that Congress and researchers will be able to find what they need 5 or 50 years from now. Being the Library of last resort is a huge and wondrous responsibility.
What’s something most of your co-workers do not know about you?
I took up skydiving as a dare with some law school buddies. My first jump was a near-disaster when my chute got caught in some power lines. I had to go a second time so I wouldn’t have nightmares the rest of my life. I then promised my mom I wouldn’t do it again.