Life-term for nation’s librarian running out?

The hourglass is running out as Congress considers a term-limit for the Librarian of Congress.

Congress is considering a term-limit for the nation’s Librarian. (photo: wallspapercraft.com)

Hard on the heels of the recent surprise announcement that the current Librarian of Congress, Dr. James Billington, would accelerate his retirement from year’s end (as announced in June) to September 30, the Senate last night approved legislation to limit the service of all future Librarians. Co-authored by all five members of the Senate’s Joint Committee on the Library, and passed without debate by unanimous consent on the day of its introduction, the “Librarian of Congress Succession Modernization Act of 2015” (S.2162) would establish a ten-year term for the post, renewable by the President upon Senate reconfirmation. Since the position was established in 1800, it has been held by just 13 Librarians of Congress appointed to life terms. Comparable House legislation is expected, but the timing of its introduction and consideration is uncertain.

The Senate’s action last night comes as the President is preparing to nominate Dr. Billington’s successor against the backdrop of two scathing reports by the Government Accountability Office detailing serious and pervasive inefficiencies and deficiencies of both the Library of Congress‘ and the U.S. Copyright Office’s information systems and (particularly in the case of the Library itself) management. Deputy Librarian David Mao is currently serving as Acting Librarian.

While no timetable for the President’s nomination of Dr. Billington’s successor has been announced, action by the White House (if not Senate confirmation) is expected before the end of this calendar year. In a letter to him last June, ALA President Courtney Young strongly urged President Obama to appoint a professional librarian to the post, a position since echoed by 30 other state-based library organizations.  This summer, in an OpEd published in Roll Call, ALA Office for Information Technology Policy Director Alan Inouye also emphasized the need for the next Librarian of Congress to possess a skill set tailored to the challenge of leading the institution into the 21st Century.

About Adam Eisgrau

Adam Eisgrau is a 30-year veteran of Washington legal practice, government service, public and private sector lobbying, and strategic communications and policy consulting. Adam first handled digital copyright matters for ALA from 1995 to 1999 and rejoined the Washington Office in September 2014 as managing director of the Office of Government Relations. His issue portfolio includes copyright, privacy and surveillance, cybersecurity, encryption and data security. Adam received a BA in American Studies from Dartmouth College and his JD from Harvard Law.

4 comments

  1. Bernadine Abbott Hoduski

    The Congressional Joint Committee on the Library needs to provide oversight of the activities of LC and the Librarian. JCL should hold a series of hearings to determine what the future of LC should look like. Dr Billington did good things for LC but he seldom if ever attended national library meetings to gather advice from the library community about what the public needs from LC.

  2. Charles Wm. Conaway

    I think we need a competent professional who is current both technically and legally. Of course, we must avoid having one that will follow any Senate’s political line. He ought not have any stated political views nor be asked for them — though, of course, like all of us, he can do as he chooses in the voting booth; just not in his office.

  3. A term limit will allow for someone who has a more current skills and mindset.

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