Longtime Library of Congress Chief to Resign Amid Complaints of Mismanagement

Friday, June 12, 2015
James Billington (photo: Jacques Brinon, AP)

James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress since his appointment in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan, announced he will step down at the end of this year, a move that will please many who work for the Library of Congress.


The 86-year-old Russian expert has been described as “mercurial” by the media, and a lot worse by those working for him.


Under his leadership, the Library of Congress has been criticized in more than a dozen government reports for poor management and technology failures that have wasted millions of taxpayer dollars, according to The New York Times. Billington has been criticized for making only a small fraction of the library’s 24 million books available online. In addition, a 2013 audit found that millions of items dating from the 1980s are warehoused with no way to be used.


The Washington Post reported that upon hearing Billington’s announcement, “the reaction inside the library was almost gleeful, as one employee joked that some workers were thinking of organizing a conga line down Pennsylvania Avenue.”


“There is a general sense of relief, hope and renewal, all rolled into one feeling,” one staffer who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal told the newspaper. “Like a great weight has been lifted from our shoulders.”


Billington also has come under fire from the Copyright Office, which reports to the Library of Congress. Maria Pallante, head of the Copyright Office, has reportedly asked Congress to remove her agency out from the Library because its technological problems have made her job more difficult.


To his credit, Billington did help create Thomas.gov, where the public can go to search for bills, schedules and other information about Congress and put together source materials for teachers.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Librarian of Congress James Billington to Retire in January (by Peggy McGlone, Washington Post)

Library of Congress Chief Retires Under Fire (by Michael Shear, New York Times)

Library of Congress: Strong Leadership Needed to Address Serious Information Technology Management Weaknesses (Government Accountability Office)

Information Technology: Copyright Office Needs to Develop Plans that Address Technical and Organizational Challenges (Government Accountability Office) (pdf)

James H. Billington to Retire as Librarian Effective Jan. 1, 2016 (Library of Congress)


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