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Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow: The Retirement of Stephen Clarke, Canadian Law Specialist

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A number of our Law Library of Congress colleagues retired at the end of October.  Stephen Clarke, Mark Strattner, and Alvin Wallace are retiring this month after a long and productive service to the Law Library of Congress (LLC). We hope you enjoy our profiles on them.

We are sad to see great friends leave, and of course there is always a loss of institutional knowledge when such long careers come to an end, but we are happy that they now get to enjoy their retirement.  The other morning I had the chance to ask our retiring Canadian legal specialist, Stephen Clarke, a few questions about his career at the Law Library that has now spanned across five decades (almost 34 years!).

I asked Steve about the changes he has witnessed during his time at the Law Library.  He said that the biggest change has been computerization – which has not only affected his daily work, but has also made the institution more accessible to the public.  Previously in his job there was near absolute dependence upon paper sources, such as slip laws, to stay up to date with legislation.  For some of Steve’s Caribbean jurisdictions, there was a considerable lag in the time between legislation and judicial decisions being published and received.  In order to get some of these materials he said that he spent a lot of time contacting foreign governments and courts to get copies of laws and decisions that were of interest to an American audience.  He has also noticed tremendous growth of legal publishing within his jurisdictions that have British-derived legal systems, which previously relied heavily on British treatises and laws rather than their own publications.

Not only has computerization changed how we do our jobs in the Global Legal Research Center, and the Law Library as a whole, it has also had an impact on the nature of the requests that we receive.  Steve said that the patrons come in with more knowledge and have done preliminary work and therefore seek the assistance of specialists for a higher level of expertise.  There is also a demand for quicker answers.  Before the use of the Internet to publish laws and judicial opinions, Steve would frequently receive calls from people within the US asking if we had copies of foreign materials.  If we didn’t have them, he would have to arrange to obtain them as soon as possible.

Steve’s favorite activity and achievement over the course of his career has been testifying before Congress.  He said that he particularly enjoyed this aspect of his job as it is among the most direct interaction that we have with our primary clients, and he likes to have a personal interaction with the people for whom we are working.  He also liked working on projects that he felt had an influence on the direction of US laws and policies.  In addition, he found giving presentations and attending conferences to develop his knowledge and networks particularly enjoyable.  He also mentioned to me that:

Throughout my career, I enjoyed working with the staff of the Library of Parliament [in Canada] and in 2003, I was seconded to its Research Branch to work on comparative law projects for three months.  This was a highlight of my career.

I asked Steve whether he had come across any items in the Library’s collection that he had found particularly shocking or surprising.  He said that he had read some old laws regarding slavery in the Caribbean in the 1600’s, such as in Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, and that even though you know it had existed at the time, to see the actual laws and rules talk about punishing slaves and establishing rules for clothing of slaves brought the situation to life in a shocking way.

I finally asked him what working at the Law Library for almost 34 years had taught him and he replied that he had learned what a magnet the Law Library is to people who love the law and who love to study and promote it.

For Steve, it seems, the time has come for the polarities to be reversed.  I want to wish Steve a wonderful retirement, filled with happy memories and safe travels.  I will miss you, and our morning chats, my friend.

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