With the recent retirement of James Billington as the Librarian of Congress, the United States is set to get its first new Librarian in nearly three decades.
The current librarian, James Billington, has held the title since his appointment by President Reagan in 1987. Though named by the president and confirmed by the Senate, the Librarian doesn’t change with every new White House. After being appointed, Librarians are free to serve as long as they want—that’s why there have been only 13 of them since 1802.
In other words, this will be the first time a new Librarian has been appointed since the invention of the web.
Some interesting facts about the Librarian of Congress:
The Librarian of Congress doesn’t need vocational experience as a librarian or a library science degree to hold the position. He—every Librarian since the position was created in 1802 has been male—is appointed by the President of the United States, must be approved by the Senate, and is responsible for the world’s largest library.
So what exactly does the Librarian of Congress do?
The Librarian is in charge of overseeing the Library of Congress, managing congressional relations, appointing staff—including the Poet Laureate—and supervising administrative work related to budgetary concerns, legal services, communications, and events. The Librarian also oversees the Copyright Office, which in 2013 registered 496,599 claims to copyright and forwarded almost 642,000 copies of works to the Library’s collections. In a 2010 statement, current Librarian of Congress James H. Billington explained that every three years, in accordance with the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) [PDF], the Librarian reexamines the copyright law in relation to new technologies to reassess who is eligible to circumvent the pre-existing regulations “in order to engage in noninfriging uses of works.”
After a 2013 audit found that Billington had not sufficiently managed the Library's technological resources, there is now proposed legislation to limit the term of the Librarian of Congress to 10 years as opposed to a lifetime appointment. This legislation's purpose is to ensure that future Librarians do not fall behind in technological advances.
Just yesterday it was announced that David Mao has been appointed acting Librarian of Congress. While Mao has a wonderful resume, I am a little disappointed that a woman was not chosen for the role - especially considering that a librarian is considered a "pink collar" profession by some.