In the past few months, there has been considerable discussion among Washington information and technology leaders about who should lead the Library of Congress, now that James Billington has announced his retirement. Today, in an op-ed published today in Roll Call, Alan Inouye, director of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Information Technology Policy, asks leaders to re-imagine the future of the agency and its role in Washington. In the piece, Inouye writes:
We are at a pivotal point in the digital revolution. How Americans work, govern, live, learn and relax is changing in fundamental ways. Today’s digital technologies are helping spur economic and social shifts as significant as those brought on by the manufacturing and distribution innovations of the industrial revolution. As part of the digital revolution, the roles, capabilities and expectations of information institutions (e.g., mass media, Internet companies, universities and libraries) have transformed and must continue to evolve.
And, indeed, a number of the key players in today’s information ecosystem didn’t even exist when Billington became the librarian of Congress in 1987 — such as Google, Yahoo!, the Internet Archive, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Wikipedia, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Digital Public Library of America.
In light of this we need to consider: What are the necessary roles of federal government institutions such as the Library of Congress in the digital revolution? How can such institutions best promote innovation and creativity, and not get in the way of it? Which public interest responsibilities in the digital society inherently fall into the bailiwick of the federal government? We have many questions but few answers, and only modest cross-agency discussion and a dearth of cross-sector discussion of these bigger questions.