James H. Billington

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James Billington
James H. Billington 8971.JPG
Librarian of Congress
Assumed office
September 14, 1987
President Ronald Reagan
George H. W. Bush
Bill Clinton
George W. Bush
Barack Obama
Preceded by Daniel Boorstin
Personal details
Born (1929-06-01) June 1, 1929 (age 86)
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Alma mater Princeton University
Balliol College, Oxford

James Hadley Billington (born June 1, 1929) is an American academic. He is the 13th Librarian of the United States Congress. He announced his intention to retire as Librarian in 2015.[1]


Early years[edit]

Born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, Billington was educated in the public schools of the Philadelphia area. He was class valedictorian at both Lower Merion High School and Princeton University, where he graduated with highest honors in 1950. Three years later, he earned his doctorate from Balliol College, Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. Following service with the U.S. Army and in the Office of National Estimates, he taught history at Harvard University from 1957 to 1962 and subsequently at Princeton University, where he was a professor of history from 1964 to 1974.


From 1973 to 1987, Billington was director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the nation’s official memorial in Washington, D.C. to America’s 28th president. As director, he founded the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies at the Center and seven other new programs as well as the Wilson Quarterly.

Billington was sworn in as the Librarian of Congress on September 14, 1987. He is the 13th person to hold the position since the Library of Congress was established in 1800. His appointment was unanimously confirmed by the Senate.[2]

Billington has championed the Library’s American Memory National Digital Library (NDL) Program,[3] which makes freely available on-line over 24 million American historical items from the collections of the Library and other research institutions. Besides these unique American Memory materials, the Library Internet services include the congressional database, THOMAS; the on-line card catalog; exhibitions; information from the U.S. Copyright Office; and a web site for children and families called America’s Library. In fiscal year 2013 the Library's website recorded 84 million visits and 519 million page views.[4]

Billington created the Library’s first national private-sector advisory group, the James Madison Council, whose members have supported the NDL Program, many other Library outreach programs, and acquisitions for the Library’s collections. In 2000, the Library’s bicentennial year, Madison Council Chairman John W. Kluge made what was at the time the largest monetary donation in the Library’s history: US$60 million to create within the Library the John W. Kluge Center, a place for advanced scholars and a Nobel-level prize for lifetime achievement in the humanities or social sciences.

The Kluge donation was exceeded in 2007 when David W. Packard and the Los Altos-based charity the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI) donated US$155 million toward the Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation.[5] The 45-acre campus is located in Culpeper, Virginia, and contains over 6.2 million moving images, which is the largest collection in the world.[6] It also includes audio collections, screenplays, supporting documents, manuscripts, posters, photographs, and press kits.

George Soros (left) and James H. Billington at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. on January 22, 2001 to discuss the views expressed in Soros' new book, Open Society: Reforming Global Capitalism.

Billington is the author of Mikhailovsky and Russian Populism (1956), The Icon and the Axe (1966), Fire in the Minds of Men (1980), Russia Transformed: Breakthrough to Hope, August 1991 (1992) and The Face of Russia (1998), the companion book to the three-part television series of the same name, which he wrote and narrated for the Public Broadcasting Service. The Icon and the Axe, Fire in the Minds of Men and The Face of Russia have been translated and published in a variety of languages. Billington has accompanied ten congressional delegations to Russia and the former Soviet Union. In June 1988 he accompanied President Ronald Reagan to the Soviet Summit in Moscow. He is the founder of the Open World Program and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Open World Leadership Center. The Open World Program is a nonpartisan initiative of the U.S. Congress that has brought 6,265 emerging young Russian political leaders to communities throughout America.

Billington has received 33 honoris causa degrees, as well as the Woodrow Wilson Award from Princeton University (1992), the UCLA Medal (1999), and the Pushkin Medal of the International Association of the Teachers of Russian Language and Culture (2000). Most recently he was awarded honorary doctorates from the Tbilisi State University in Georgia (1999) and the Moscow State University for the Humanities (2001). He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Oxford in November 2002. In total, Dr. Billington has received over 40 honorary degrees.

James billington.jpg

Billington was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1985.[7] He is an elected member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and has been decorated as Chevalier and again as a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters of France, as Commander of the National Order of the Southern Cross of Brazil, awarded the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, and a Knight Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit by the Federal Republic of Germany. He has also been awarded the Gwanghwa Medal by the Republic of Korea, and the Chingiz Aitmatov Gold Medal by the Kyrgyz Republic.

Billington was a longtime member of the editorial advisory boards of Foreign Affairs and of Theology Today, and a member of the Board of Foreign Scholarships (1971–76; Chairman, 1973–1975), which has executive responsibility for academic exchanges worldwide under the Fulbright-Hays Act. He is a member of the Council of Foreign Relations. He is on the Board of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and is a member of the American Philosophical Society and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Personal life[edit]

Billington is married to the former Marjorie Anne Brennan. They have four children: Dr. Susan Billington Harper, Anne Billington Fischer, the Rev. James Hadley Billington Jr., and Thomas Keator Billington, as well as 12 grandchildren.[3] Dr. Billington and his daughter Susan are the first father and daughter to both be awarded Rhodes Scholarships and use them to earn Doctorates of Philosophy (at Oxford University).



  1. ^ Shear, Michael D. (10 June 2015). "Library of Congress Chief Leaving After Nearly 3 Decades". New York Times. Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  2. ^ https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42072.pdf
  3. ^ a b "About the Librarian". loc.gov. 
  4. ^ Library of Congress (2014). Annual report of the Librarian of Congress for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2013. p. 30.
  5. ^ Arden Pennell. "Packard makes donation to Library of Congress". paloaltoonline.com. 
  6. ^ "Audio-Visual Conservation (Library of Congress Packard Campus, Culpeper, Virginia)". loc.gov. 
  7. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 20, 2011. 


External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Daniel Boorstin
Librarian of Congress