Remembering James Billington, Who Brought Ice Skating to the Library of Congress
Long-serving librarian of Congress died at age 89 on Nov. 20
Tributes to the late Librarian of Congress James Billington have touched on his transformational role at the institution, his scholarship of Russian and intellect. But he also brought ice skating, yes ice skating, to the institution’s Great Hall.
On Oct. 25, 2012, the nation’s repository of knowledge rolled out not exactly ice but an acrylic surface for “ice dancers” to perform in a winter wonderland for the Role of the Arts in International Relations, an event sponsored by American University’s Initiative for Russian Culture and the Mariinsky Foundation.
“It’s once in a lifetime,” Billington said at the time, as “Swan Lake” reverberated through the marble columns in the library’s Jefferson Building.
That could have described a lot of the experiences of Billington as he served as the nation’s cultural custodian for 28 years, from squiring Beatle Paul McCartney around to showing school kids some of the library’s first digitally interactive exhibits to hobnobbing with documentarian Ken Burns.