June 11, 2015

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington to retire after three decades (and calls for him to step down)



Librarian of Congress James H. Billington will resign, effective January 1, 2016

The Library of Congress announced in a press release yesterday that James H. Billington, the 13th Librarian of Congress, will retire at the beginning of 2016. Billington, a scholar and author of seven books on Russian and European History, served as “Librarian of Congress” from 1987 to this year—over three decades. He was nominated by President Ronald Reagan.

As we have written before on this blog, Billington was criticized for mismanagement in two separate reports by the Government Accountability Office—one investigation into the Library of Congress another more recent study looking at the Copyright Office.

In an editorial on April 4, 2015, the New York Times called for Billington to step down based on the conclusions of the Government Accountability Office investigations.

Both reports cited weaknesses in computer planning, security and inventory procedures. In less than three years, there have been five acting information officers, who, according to investigators, never had full authority to manage the library’s systems.

The library first said it had 30 systems, but that was finally revised to 70 in the main report. Similarly, the library said it had 18,000 personal computers, but investigators found fewer than 6,500.

Billington obliquely mentioned the calls for his retirement in a statement in the Library of Congress press release announcing the news:

“Over the years I have been asked if I have been thinking about retiring; and the answer has always been ‘not really,’ because this Library has always been not just my job, but my life,” Billington said. “However, I have never had more faith in the leadership and staff of the Library of Congress. The Library’s new, top management team is as deeply experienced, and creatively collegial, as any I have ever known, and I am confident that they will continue to innovate, adapt and improve on the work we have undertaken during my time as Librarian of Congress.”

The press release also includes a timeline of Billington’s accomplishments, highlights from his 42 honorary doctorate degrees, and the names of his four grandchildren. The Librarian of Congress vacancy will be filled by presidential nomination with confirmation from the United States Senate.





Claire Kelley is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House.