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Senators Look to Term-Limit Librarian of Congress

Billington will retire in 2016. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Billington will retire in 2016. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A bipartisan group of senators is looking to limit the term of the Librarian of Congress to a decade, about a third the length of the outgoing librarian’s tenure.  

James H. Billington, who has headed the library for 28 years, is set to step down Wednesday. It comes after making a surprise announcement last week that he would retire three months earlier than expected. The position is currently granted for life, but lawmakers hope to change that. According to a copy of the Senate bill introduced Tuesday by Senate Rules Administration Chairman Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and ranking member Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., the lawmakers want to establish a 10-year term of service for the Librarian of Congress. The three other senators who are members of the Joint Committee of the Library also signed onto the bill.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., who is member of the joint committee, told CQ Roll Call the act would not block the same person from being nominated to be the librarian for more than one term.

“It can be re-appointed, but it keeps it out of politics because it would overlap — this would overlap any presidential term,” Leahy said. “It allows the president to name the best man or woman there is at a time when, I think, we’re having some remarkable changes, especially in the Copyright Office.”

Appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987, Billington, 86, is the 13th person to ever serve in the position since the Library of Congress was established in 1800.  

Billington’s announcement in June that he would retire effective Jan. 1 invited praise of Billington from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, who lauded his expertise and dedication to the 200-year-old institution. But it also sparked discussions about potential changes to the Library’s structure.  

His departure comes at a tumultuous time for the Library, which has faced harsh criticism for mismanagement of its information technology and allegations that it has not evolved with the changing times.  

In a statement last week announcing he would retire earlier than expected, Billington said he looked forward to “spending time on long long-postponed writing projects and with my beloved family.” According to a Library spokesperson, there will not be any ceremonies Wednesday marking Billington’s final day, but he will attend a previously scheduled event presenting the Kluge Prize for Achievement in Humanities.  

Deputy Librarian David Mao will serve as Acting Librarian of Congress in the interim. President Barack Obama is tasked with appointing the next librarian, which must be confirmed by the Senate.  


Billington Moves Up Retirement as Librarian of Congress


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