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
David S. Mao
Library of Congress
Inaugural holder John J. Beckley
Formation 1800
Deputy David Mao[1]
Salary US$181,500
Level II of the Executive Schedule[2]

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,[3] for a term of ten years.[4] The Librarian of Congress appoints the U.S. Poet Laureate.

The Librarian of Congress has broad responsibilities around copyright, extending to electronic resources and fair use provisions outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The Librarian determines whether particular works are subject to DMCA prohibitions regarding technological access protection.[5][6]


The library was established with $5,000 given by the United States legislation. The original library was first housed in the new Capitol until August 1814, when invading British troops set fire to the Capitol Building, burning and destroying all the contents contained in the library.[7] In 1802, two years after the creation of the Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson appointed the 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.[8]

For most of the position's history, there was no official term limit for the Librarian of Congress, but in the 20th century a precedent was established that Librarians of Congress are appointed for life. Therefore, most librarians have served until death or retirement.[8] Since there is no official term limit, most librarians have acted as the leader of the Library of Congress for extensive periods, such as Herbert Putnam, who served as the librarian for 40 years. Therefore, the United States has only seen 13 Librarians to date and has "enjoyed a continuity of atmosphere and of policy that is rare in national institutions".[9] However, in 2015, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed into law the "Librarian of Congress Succession Modernization Act of 2015" that puts a 10-year term limit on the position of Librarian of Congress, with an option for reappointment.[10] It was sponsored by Senators Roy Blunt and Charles Schumer.[4] It was widely seen as a critique on James Billington's 28-year tenure in the role as Librarian, towards the end of which he was accused of rampant mismanagement. The American Library Association supported the passage of the bill.[11]

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, authors, poets, lawyers, and one professional librarian who have served as the Librarian of Congress. The Library of Congress is meant to be a collaborative institution, which is why it benefits from having such a variety of leaders.[9] There is very little legislation for the Librarian of Congress or rules regarding who should be selected for the position, although at various times there have been proposals for requirements for the position. 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, which had recently become vacant and Vitz felt it necessary to recommend potential librarians. 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".[12] In 1989, Representative Major R Owens (D–NY) proposed a bill in Congress that would set stricter requirements for who may be appointed. It argues appointed Librarians need to have specialized training; this bill did not pass.[13]

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 (1987–2015)
  14. David S. Mao (2015-Present), Acting

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Osterberg, Gayle (January 22, 2015). "Senior Staff Appointments | News Releases - Library of Congress". Retrieved June 15, 2015. 
  2. ^ "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. 
  3. ^ "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. 
  4. ^ a b Roy, Blunt, (2015-11-05). "S.2162 - 114th Congress (2015-2016): Librarian of Congress Succession Modernization Act of 2015". Retrieved 2015-11-11. 
  5. ^ "US Code, Title 17, Chapter 12, Section 1201 - Circumvention of copyright protection systems". Cornell University: Legal Information Institute. 2014. Retrieved 14 February 2014. 
  6. ^ "Section 1201: Exemptions to Prohibition Against Circumvention of Technological Measures Protecting Copyrighted Works". U.S. Copyright Office. 2013. Retrieved 14 February 2014. 
  7. ^ Library of Congress: History of the library. Retrieved September 25, 2015
  8. ^ a b "Library of Congress". Retrieved November 20, 2014. 
  9. ^ a b Librarians of Congress: 1802-1974. Washington: Library of Congress. 1977. 
  10. ^ Congressional Bill; 114 Bill Profile S.2162- An Act To establish a 10-year term for the service of the Librarian of Congress. Sponsor: Roy Blunt and Charles Schumer. November 5, 2015. Public law 114-86.
  11. ^ Warburton, Bob (October 13, 2015). "Senate Passes 10 Year Term for Librarian of Congress". Library Journal. Retrieved November 20, 2015. 
  12. ^ Vitz, Carl (1945). "Re: Librarian of Congress". ALA Bulletin 39 (2): 62. 
  13. ^ Congressional Bill; 101 Bill Profile H.R. 1255- Appointment of the Librarian of Congress. Sponsor: Major R Owens (D- NY). March 02, 1989, Congress Session 101-1.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]