Dr. Billington addressed attendees at the American Library Association Annual Conference in New Orleans during the Opening General Session, June 26. His comments followed those of ALA President Ann Symons and preceded those of former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell. Following are Dr. Billington's remarks:
In recent years, the Library of Congress has enjoyed a special relationship with the American Library Association [ALA] and its presidents Betty Turock, Mary Sommerville, Barbara Ford and Ann Symons. We look forward to continuing our collaboration for America's libraries with incoming president Sarah Long and president-elect Nancy Kranich.
April 24, 2000, is the 200th birthday of the Library of Congress, which we want to make a celebration of the role of librarians and libraries all over America. Open access to knowledge is one of the pillars of American democracy. Our free library system is one of the splendors of our century. Librarians are both the dreamkeepers and the sentinels of freedom in our communities.
The Library of Congress's most important birthday gift to all our library partners will be the electronic delivery to local communities of our American Memory National Digital Library Program collections. Universally available at no cost, these digitized collections include the best of multimedia Americana from the last two centuries. They tell the story of America through: the original papers of presidents Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln; the original draft of the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address; landmark photographs from the earliest Lincoln portrait, to Mathew Brady's famed Civil War images, to breathtaking landscapes and cityscapes; and panoramic maps of cities and towns like New Orleans 150 years ago. Early baseball cards with heroes from the field of dreams: Cy Young, Connie Mack and Jackie Robinson. America's explosion of creativity in poetry, dance and music. Edison-era sound recordings and films showing entertainment a century ago.
Sharing these hitherto largely inaccessible primary sources has been a truly collaborative effort. A generous grant from Ameritech enabled us to add to the American Memory collections, choice treasures from 33 partners big and small throughout the land. We will deliver to you online by 2000 a National Digital Library substantially larger even than the Library's original goal of 5 million items. Today, we celebrate our newest partners, the six 1998-1999 winners of the Library of Congress/Ameritech National Digital Library Competition who will receive assistance to add their digital online collections to the Library of Congress's own digitized materials and those of earlier winners.
Our Web site already receives 4 million hits a day. We hope your libraries will make wider use of these rich and diverse original documents of American history and creativity that come to you freely from libraries great and small. Please encourage your patrons to use this free online resource in your own library.
We want you to bring your library to our birthday party next year. First, help your community record and celebrate a Local Legacy. We have nearly 600 Local Legacy projects already under way documenting cultural traditions in congressional districts all over America from Cajun and Creole music to folk art and fine art. We want more projects and we invite your patrons to submit photographs or other documentation that capture a tradition or event unique to your community.
Help us create a Local Legacy Time Capsule in your area that will enrich both your own and the national collection. Please contact our Bicentennial Office at (800) 707-7145 for more ideas. You can also help the U.S. Mint sell the first gold and platinum coin ever issued. Thanks to your efforts, and others', Congress passed legislation for the nation's first ever bimetallic coin, which will commemorate the Library of Congress's 200th anniversary and raise funds to continue our efforts to make even more free educational materials electronically available to libraries and schools.
On April 25, 2000, libraries across the country will offer second-day cancellations of a special Library of Congress commemorative stamp. We have a team that will help your library serve as an issue site and a local center for our weeklong celebration of all America's libraries.
ALA and the Library of Congress have already co-sponsored a national photography contest, whose winners are being featured at this conference. We encourage you to display these photographs in your library as a Bicentennial event. Some of these ideas and more are contained in the Toolkit we have produced for you. ALA's tip sheet also contains information about opportunities for participation. [To receive these materials call the Bicentennial Program Office.] We are proud of our partnership with America's libraries and the role you play as the keepers and navigators of knowledge.
As James Madison wrote in 1822, "Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."
Thank you for joining us in this Bicentennial celebration of libraries.