4 Things You Need To Know About the Library of Congress Librarian

4 Things You Need To Know About the Library of Congress Librarian

After serving as the librarian of the Library of Congress since 1987, James H. Billington stepped down from his post in 2015. How much do you know about this leadership role of the country’s premier library facility? Explore the following four key facts about the Library of Congress librarian.


The President Appoints This Librarian

Image via Flickr by Vibragiel_4 Things You Need to Know About the Library of Congress Librarian

Image via Flickr by Vibragiel


David S. Mao has been the acting librarian since October 2015, according to the Library of Congress website. However, Robinson Meyer, writing for Nextgov, notes that Mao will need President Barack Obama’s endorsement to become the next librarian of the Library of Congress. According to Michael D. Shear of The New York Times, Mao may face competition from other hopefuls, including Wesleyan president Michael S. Roth, Boston Public Library president Amy E. Ryan, and American historian Douglas Brinkley.

Billington received his appointment during President Ronald Reagan’s term, after the Senate confirmed the president’s decision. The librarian of the Library of Congress has no set service term, which explains why only 13 of them have occupied the position since 1802, according to Shear.


The Library of Congress Librarian Rarely Holds Librarian Qualifications

You might expect the librarian of the Library of Congress to hold a Master of Management in Library and Information Science or some other relevant degree, but Meyer says a qualified librarian has not held the position during the last 61 years.

According to the Library of Congress, Billington served in the U.S. Army and Office of National Estimates before becoming a history professor. Daniel J. Boorstin, who also held the position, obtained a Bachelor of Arts in jurisprudence and Bachelor of Civil Laws degrees before becoming a barrister-at-law. He was also a professor, teaching English, American history and literature, and legal history.


The Library of Congress Librarian Has Considerable Responsibilities

The Library of Congress librarian is responsible for operations of the world’s largest library, an institution with more than 160 million items, including 37 million books and printed items, 3.5 million recordings, and 14 million photographs, according to the Library of Congress website. In addition, Meyer explains this librarian manages the Copyright Office, an office dedicated to acts for U.S. copyrights.


The New Library of Congress Librarian Will Be the First to Serve in the Digital Age

Today’s society is different from what existed in 1987 when Billington served the Library of Congress. That year, Lance Armstrong was an up-and-coming triathlete, U2 was enjoying success of “The Joshua Tree,” and the first Internet exchange port establishment was still one year away.

The new Library of Congress librarian enters the position in a different, more technology-focused world than what Billington experienced. Meyer notes that industry experts speculate the new librarian will be the first to truly embrace the Internet and its capabilities. For example, a greater percentage of the Library of Congress collection may become digitized, making its resources more accessible to people around the world. Congressional reports could also be made directly available to the public.

With Billington’s departure, the librarian of the Library of Congress position enters a new era. What new innovations will the next librarian bring to the Library of Congress?