Librarian of Congress

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Librarian of Congress
Seal of the Library of Congress
Flag of the United States Library of Congress.png
Flag of the Library of Congress
Portrait of James H. Billington
James H. Billington

since September 14, 1987
Library of Congress
Appointer Ronald Reagan
Inaugural holder John J. Beckley
Formation 1800
Deputy Robert Dizard Jr.
Salary US$178,700
Level II of the Executive Schedule[1]

The Librarian of Congress is the head of the Library of Congress, appointed by the President of the United States with the advice and consent of the United States Senate,[2] and serves as the chief librarian of all the sections of the Library of Congress. One of the responsibilities of the Librarian of Congress is to appoint the U.S. Poet Laureate. The Librarian of Congress can also announce any class of copyrighted works for which the Librarian has determined that certain noninfringing uses of those copyrighted works are, or are likely to be, adversely affected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's prohibition against circumventing technological access protections on the works. That class of works will then be exempt from liability under the DMCA, subject to the conditions of the Librarian's ruling, for the ensuing 3-year period.[3][4]

History of the Librarians of Congress[edit]

In 1802, two years after the creation of the Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson appointed the very first Librarian of Congress. The law created in regards to this position gave the power of appointment to the President of the United States. It was not until 1897 that Congress was given the power to confirm the President’s nominee. This same law gave the Librarian the sole power for making the institution’s rules and appointing the Library’s staff.[5]

There is no official term limit for the Librarian of Congress. Laws have been created regarding the appointment process, but no law indicates the term of office. However, in the twentieth century the precedent was established that Librarians of Congress are appointed for life. Therefore, most librarians have served until death or retirement.[6]

Since there is no official term limit, most librarians have acted as the leader of the Library of Congress for extensive amounts of time, such as Herbert Putnam who served as the librarian for forty years. Therefore, Library of Congress has only experienced twelve Librarians and has “enjoyed a continuity of atmosphere and of policy that is rare in national institutions.”[7]

There is very little legislation for the Librarian of Congress or rules regarding who should be selected for the position. However, in 1989 Major Robert Odell Owens (D- NY) proposed a bill in Congress that would set stricter requirements for whom can be appointed as the Librarian. It argues appointed Librarians need to have specialized training and backgrounds in the field of libraries. However, this bill did not pass.[8]

The position of Librarian of Congress has been held by candidates of different backgrounds, interests, and talents, as there are no official rules for who qualifies to be the Librarian of Congress. Therefore, there have been politicians, businessmen, newspaper, authors, poets, lawyers, and one professional librarian. The Library of Congress is meant to be a collaborative institution, which is why it benefits from having such a variety of leaders.[7]

In 1945, Carl Vitz, the president of the American Library Association at the time, wrote a letter to the President of the United States regarding the position of Librarian of Congress. The position had recently become vacant and Vitz felt it necessary to recommend potential librarians to the President. Vitz stated the position “requires a top-flight administrator, a statesman-like leader in the world of knowledge, and an expert in bringing together the materials of scholarship and organizing them for use- in short, a distinguished librarian.”[9]

List of Librarians of Congress[edit]

  1. John J. Beckley (1802–1807)
  2. Patrick Magruder (1807–1815)
  3. George Watterston (1815–1829)
  4. John Silva Meehan (1829–1861)
  5. John Gould Stephenson (1861–1864)
  6. Ainsworth Rand Spofford (1864–1897)
  7. John Russell Young (1897–1899)
  8. Herbert Putnam (1899–1939)
  9. Archibald MacLeish (1939–1944)
  10. Luther H. Evans (1945–1953)
  11. Lawrence Quincy Mumford (1954–1974)
  12. Daniel J. Boorstin (1975–1987)
  13. James H. Billington (1987–present)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "US Code, Title 2, Chapter 5, Section 136a–2: Librarian of Congress and Deputy Librarian of Congress; compensation". Cornell University: Legal Information Institute. 2014. Retrieved 14 February 2014. 
  2. ^ "US Code, Title 2, Chapter 5, Section 136 - Librarian of Congress; appointment; rules and regulations". Cornell University: Legal Information Institute. 2014. Retrieved 14 February 2014. 
  3. ^ "US Code, Title 17, Chapter 12, Section 1201 - Circumvention of copyright protection systems". Cornell University: Legal Information Institute. 2014. Retrieved 14 February 2014. 
  4. ^ "Section 1201: Exemptions to Prohibition Against Circumvention of Technological Measures Protecting Copyrighted Works". U.S. Copyright Office. 2013. Retrieved 14 February 2014. 
  5. ^ "Library of Congress". Retrieved November 20, 2014. 
  6. ^ "Library of Congress". Retrieved November 20, 2014. 
  7. ^ a b Librarians of Congress: 1802-1974. Washington: Library of Congress. 1977. 
  8. ^ Congressional Bill; 101 Bill Profile H.R. 1255- Appointment of the Librarian of Congress. Sponsor: Major Robert Odell Owens (D- NY). March 02, 1989, Congress Session 101-1.
  9. ^ Vitz, Carl (1945). "Re: Librarian of Congress". ALA Bulletin 39 (2): 62.