By GAIL FINEBERG
A modest man, whose philanthropy is making a difference in classrooms that have computer access to the Library's American Memory historical collections, smiled shyly in the Library limelight April 13 as his Madison Council colleagues and Dr. Billington thanked him for his leadership and generosity during the past nine years.
As the founding chairman of the Madison Council, the Library's private sector support group, in 1990 and one of two founding sponsors of the National Digital Library Program, John W. Kluge, president of Metromedia Co., led a successful campaign to raise $45 million from the private sector, to be matched by $15 million in appropriated public funds, to digitize one-of-a-kind historic documents archived at the Library and other repositories across the nation and make them available worldwide via the Internet. Mr. Kluge himself gave $10 million, and the campaign exceeded its goal.
Said Dr. Billington at a reception honoring Mr. Kluge and the council's other corporate and foundation sponsors, "We at the Library owe a great debt to John, not only for this achievement, but also for being the founder and strength behind the Madison Council for the past nine years."
The Librarian noted that the Madison Council has funded more than 170 projects "aiming to open up this institution by both bringing people in and getting knowledge out." These projects include, in addition to the National Digital Library (NDL) Program, acquisitions of rare materials, funding for research and scholarship, exhibitions and related symposia.
"This support has given birth to a new entrepreneurial spirit throughout the Library. Our curators and managers now know that their ideas and initiatives that improve services, enrich the collections and make them more accessible will be rewarded and supported," Dr. Billington said.
Rep. William M. Thomas (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Administration and vice chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library, who was present at the inception of the National Digital Library Program, thanked both Dr. Billington and Mr. Kluge for their leadership in joining public and private sectors in an enterprise that benefits the American public.
"These are the kinds of events Congress loves," he said. "This public-private partnership is exactly the way we like it. As it was appropriate for Thomas Jefferson to offer his books to start the Library, it is totally appropriate in the 21st century to figuratively knock down the walls of this Library and give all Americans a chance to enjoy the fruits of our culture through the National Digital Library."
Dining by candlelight in the coral, gilt and marble grandeur of the Jefferson Building's Northwest Curtain, more than 200 guests, including members of Congress, Madison Council members and other Library supporters, and friends of Mr. Kluge, witnessed some results of the donors' generosity.
"Look at what it is you all have made possible," said the NDL Program's Robert G. Zich, indicating two large monitors displaying digital images from the American Memory collections. Selections included Thomas Jefferson's handwritten rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, Civil War photographs, George Washington's papers, the earliest motion pictures by Thomas Edison and a sound recording of a speech by Franklin Roosevelt. "These are being seen and used in classrooms throughout the nation."
Mr. Zich said the NDL Program "is recognized as the leading source of educational materials on the Internet." The Library's Web site averages 3.5 million hits every working day from users all over the world, he said. How these resources can stimulate learning in the classroom was illustrated by testimony from history teacher Laura Wakefield.
After dinner, Mr. Kluge and the NDL charter sponsors -- those who gave $1 million or more to the project -- were paid special tribute during a Coolidge Auditorium ceremony. Ray Smith, chairman of Rothschild, North America, and former chairman and chief executive officer of Bell Atlantic Corp., surprised Mr. Kluge by reading a poem that Mr. Smith wrote on the way home from an NDL fund-raising effort, where, he said, his description of a visit to an urban New Jersey School had touched Mr. Kluge.
Mr. Smith portrayed Mr. Kluge not only as a "giant of a man, an Arthur who pulls financial swords from rigid stones," but also as "a gentle man," one who responds with "an unembarrassed tear" upon hearing of a child in an urban school, "who with a virtuoso's flair scans computer screens that he says he has learned to love and draws from it a picture from a library, a page of pure delight, a portrait from somewhere in the universe, well hidden but in a place he has learned to find again and again.
"This child knows those places and where those pictures hide, and he has learned those secrets in a happy way that no one had to teach him, and somewhere in that journey he's become that child he always thought he ought to be, one who knows a lot of stuff and likes to show others how to do it.
"But what he didn't know was, there was a man, who, with a shy, dismissive shrug, placed all those treasures there for that little child to find.
"All those million, million kids ... all those unborn virtuosos of the keyboard, who, if they knew, would say of all that cool, keen stuff to see, 'John Kluge put it there for me.'"
Mr. Kluge thanked Mr. Smith and the Librarian for their remarks and Madison Council members for their support of the NDL Program and the Library. Remarking on the council's growth to more than 100 members, Mr. Kluge said, "During these years as chairman, I have had the privilege of seeing the unfolding of a wonderful success story -- the story of how a group of committed and generous people from the private sector focused its resources in a public institution and made a major change for the good."
By funding numerous programs "that inform, enlighten and inspire people of all ages," Mr. Kluge said, the Madison Council "has propelled the Library beyond its government-supported role to become a leader in education and scholarship and a key player in the information revolution."
Mr. Kluge received a large frame containing a color photo of the Great Hall and three letters of appreciation, from former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Vice President Al Gore and Dr. Billington.
Vice President Gore wrote: "This vital initiative of the Library of Congress leads the way to a new millennium by providing unique, high-quality educational content for Internet users throughout the nation and the world. America cannot afford to have some of our citizens use essential technological tools while others are left behind to use the resources of the last century. Thank you for doing your part to bridge the divide and ensure every effort is made to leave no one behind."
Said Mr. Gingrich: "Your involvement in this project constitutes a great service to our nation. By increasing the American people's access to knowledge, which is the key to a free society, you have strengthened our democracy. And by amplifying the opportunity for all our citizens to learn about our country's past and imagine her future, you have helped transform America."
Dr. Billington wrote: "Your support has helped open up a new, free pathway to knowledge for local communities throughout the United States. You have provided food for the intellectual curiosity, entrepreneurial energy and civic spirit of Americans of all backgrounds in the 21st century."
Council members and guests then enjoyed a program of American music played at the piano by Marvin Hamlisch, award-winning composer of music for Broadway shows and movies ("The Way We Were," "The Sting," "Ordinary People," "Sophie's Choice," A Chorus Line) and the new permanent conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra Pops. Joining him was tenor Mark McVey, whose shows have included Les Miserables, Carousel, My Fair Lady, South Pacific and Show Boat.
During its semiannual business meetings, the Madison Council focused on projects related to the Library's Bicentennial in 2000. Meeting highlights included a luncheon talk by former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger.
The council's Acquisitions Committee, chaired by Edwin L. Cox of the Edwin L. Cox Co., and philanthropist Caroline Ahmanson, met to consider rare and important materials suggested by Library curators for acquisition for the Library. The Madison Council is heading this Bicentennial Gifts to the Nation project to add historically significant items to Library archives and foster scholarship and curatorships (see story in this issue).
As a result of Acquisitions Committee recommendations to the full council and the council's fund-raising efforts, the Library has been able to acquire materials valued at $4.8 million during the past four years.
The Madison Council also heard about the Library's general collections from Steven J. Herman, chief of the Collections Management Division; Richard F. Sharp and Constance Carter of the Science, Technology and Business Division; and Georgia M. Higley and Lyle W. Minter of the Serial and Government Publications Division.
Council members learned more about the Library's collections from Samuel S. Brylawski of the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, who discussed the Bob Hope collection; Mark E. Horowitz of the Music division, who discussed the papers of ballerina Alexandra Danilova; Jennifer Cutting of the American Folklife Center, whose topic was blues legend Robert Johnson; and Ieda Siqueira Wiarda of the Hispanic Division, who discoursed on the Library's collection of 6,000 chapbooks -- small books of verse and topical commentary -- from Brazil.
Ms. Fineberg is editor of the Library's staff newspaper, The Gazette.