This is an interview with Alvin J. Wallace, Legal Information Technician Specialist at the Law Library of Congress. Alvin, along with Stephen Clarke and Mark Strattner, is retiring this month after a long and productive service to the Law Library of Congress (LLC). Not wanting to miss my chance to introduce Alvin to In Custodia Legis readers, I asked him to do an interview and he graciously obliged. I hope you enjoy his interview as much as I did, along with the rest of our profiles on those retiring.
Describe your background
I was born and raised in Washington D.C. to a working class family. My parents had a strong work ethic and pushed me to work hard. They made sure that I used my time efficiently. When I was not in school, in the summertime, I had to work.
What is your academic/professional history?
I graduated from Archbishop John Carroll High School. I joined the Library of Congress (LC) in 1972. I earned a BS in Social Welfare from the University of the District of Colombia while working full-time at the LLC.
How would you describe your job to other people?
I describe my job to others by letting them know that I work in the world’s largest Law Library. My job primarily concerns locating legal materials collected from all over the world for members of the United States Congress and anyone else using resources in the LLC.
Why did you want to work at the Library of Congress?
I wanted to work at the LLC for various reasons. My first job at a library was a summer job I had, when I was a high school student, at the Maritime Administration Library (MAL). Part of my duties in that job involved coming to the LC to collect surplus books that could be useful to the MAL Library. I have always liked visiting the LC. The fact that both my parents were government employees also instilled in me the importance of public service. So when a friend of my mother’s, who worked at the LC at the time and always made the LC sound like a wonderful place to work, told me about an opening, I did not hesitate to apply. I took the entrance test (yes, they had applicants take a test back then) and passed.
What is the most interesting fact you’ve learned about the Law Library and/or the Library of Congress?
I find it interesting that after working here for a long time one becomes so intimately familiar with the stacks. By now, I feel that I have an expert knowledge of the entire Law collection kept in the Stacks. Working with the collection every day, you get to know just about where every book is supposed to be kept – that is a few million titles.
What’s something most of your co-workers do not know about you?
Most of my co-workers did not know that my wife of eight years, Joann Thomas also works at LC in the Congressional Research Service – Government and Finance Division. Many know her, but they didn’t know that we were married in 2003 and that we are the proud foster parents of two wonderful children Eshantee and Elijah. They attend Oakcrest Elementary school.