April 3, 2015

The Library of Congress is criticized by the Government Accountability Office


LibraryCongressWashDCAn investigation by the Government Accountability Office has revealed that the Library of Congress is not on the right track under the leadership of Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, the Washington Post reported this week.

Digital technology is crucial to the library’s evolving operations, and yet it is not a priority of management, the GAO investigators found. These findings repeat the conclusions of previous reports dating back 20 years. Taken together, the reports reveal library mismanagement costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, and outdated and inefficient systems in the U.S. Copyright Office. And despite the library’s reputation as an early Internet pioneer, various reports have found that it hasn’t kept up with the rapidly evolving digital times.

The report makes recommendations for Billington, who is described in the Washington Post article as “a Russia scholar appointed by Ronald Reagan who doesn’t use e-mail and rarely a cellphone.” Those recommendations include hiring a permanent chief information officer, to create timelines and budgets for information technology plans and purchases, and to implement better accounting and security measures.

Billington, who has run the Library of Congress for 27 years, is now 85 and makes $179,700 per year. But he has come under increasing criticism—in addition to the inability to evolve with digital technology that is the focus of this 2015 report, the GAO found in 2009 that the Library of Congress bought too many computer monitors that remained unused and also reported that a million books “are stored improperly on the floor.”


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