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An Interview with Alison Trulock, an Associate Archivist in the Office of Art and Archives within the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives

What is your academic and professional history?

I graduated with a BA in English and worked for about five years in editorial and project management positions in the book publishing industry. I decided to go back to graduate school, intending to be a librarian. I attended the School of Information at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. When I started the program, I discovered the archives and records management specialization and realized that was a field that I would allow me to combine my interests in research, writing, and history. Over the summer between the first and second years of my graduate program, I interned at the Center for Legislative Archives, the unit of the National Archives and Records Administration that preserves and makes accessible the records of Congress. The Center for Legislative Archives works closely with the Clerk’s Office at the House of Representatives to manage its records. I had a great experience and came away with a desire to pursue a career working with government records.

After I completed my graduate program, I moved to Washington, D.C. for a 10-week Junior Fellowship at the Library of Congress with the Veterans History Project, hoping that during those 10 weeks I would be able to find a job in the DC area. During the fellowship, a position opened up in the Clerk’s Office in the History and Preservation Office as Archives Research Assistant. I got the job on the last day of my fellowship, which made it seem like it was all meant to be! I’ve now been in the Clerk’s Office of Art and Archives for 10 years as an archivist in positions with increasing responsibilities, and I’m now Associate Archivist.

Alison Trulock, an Archival Specialist in the Office of Art and Archives within the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives. Photo by Alison Trulock.

Alison Trulock, an Associate Archivist in the Office of Art and Archives within the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives. Photo by Alison Trulock.

How would you describe your job to other people?

Very few days are the same in my position, which is one of the things I like most about it. My duties encompass many parts of the archives profession, from records management, to accessioning and describing records, to reference, and to outreach and education, as well as research and writing about House records for exhibitions and the office’s website and blog. A big focus of my position now is outreach to internal and external stakeholders about the value and importance of preserving the history of the institution of the House of Representatives through the records of its committees. We do that through direct outreach to the House community, as well as to external audiences through the History, Art & Archives website.

What is your favorite feature of Congress.gov?

The House Committee Hearings and Meetings Video page is a great resource. My office often gets questions about where to find these types of videos, so having them aggregated in one spot is really useful.

What is the most interesting fact you’ve learned about the legislative process and/or the legislative branch?

My favorite category of House records is petitions and memorials. Before I started working for the House, I knew that the right to petition Congress was guaranteed by the Constitution, but seeing how many petitions have been sent to Congress (it’s the most voluminous category of House records) was eye-opening. I love that petitions show all of the myriad issues for which people sought the assistance and intervention of Congress and the topics for which they advocated or fought against, and gives these people, groups, and communities a voice and representation in the history of Congress.

What has been your most memorable day at work?

One aspect of working here are the opportunities to experience history being made. This January, I had the chance to sit in the House Gallery for Opening Day of the new Congress for the first time. It was incredible to be able to have a near-front row seat for a unique House tradition and to be able to see a record number of women be sworn in as representatives.

Do you have a favorite non-partisan resource related to civics education that you would recommend to teachers and students?

The History, Art & Archives website, of course! In particular, I would recommend the Records Search feature of the site, which provides access to records of the committees of the House dating to 1789 that are accompanied by metadata and descriptions providing institutional and historical context for the document. Various types of documents are represented, including legislation, petitions, letters, maps, and photographs, on subjects teachers and students are covering in the classroom, such as women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, and westward expansion. One of my favorite documents is a hand-drawn map of proposed mail routes for the Utah Territory from the 1860s, which I came across during research in committee records at the Center for Legislative Archives. It was neatly folded and looked like it probably hadn’t been touched since it was filed away. It’s such an interesting visual representation of the expansion of the United States and the perhaps unexpected challenges that came along with it, such as getting mail to all of the country’s far-flung residents.

We’re working on new features geared toward students and educators and adding new documents, so we encourage teachers and students to check back often.

What kind of academic and non-academic preparation would you recommend to young people who are interested in getting a job with the legislative branch?

Internships and volunteering are always excellent opportunities to get hands-on experience and figure out what you like to do, and maybe what’s not for you, too. Being well-read on a variety of issues, points of view, current events, and history can help inform what kind of role you’re interested in on the Hill and make contributions once you’re there. Develop solid communication skills, in all forms—in person, in writing, on the phone. It’s important to remember that the legislative branch is about legislation and policy, of course, but also, in a way, about customer service. Being able to listen, think critically, and respond thoughtfully to all the people you may encounter during your day is a critical job skill.

What is something your co-workers do you know about you?

I collect vintage Pyrex bowls. I have a few sets, but have to be more strategic in my collecting because I’m running out of space to store and display them!

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