June 10, 2015 Message from James H. Billington

It is with a heart filled with gratitude that I speak to you today. After 28 years of service at this amazing institution, I am announcing my retirement, which will take effect January 1, 2016. Leading this great one-of-a-kind institution alongside all of you for nearly three decades has been the great honor and joy of my 42 years of public service in Washington, D.C.

The Library of Congress, like no other institution, exemplifies and advances America’s ongoing experiment in building a knowledge-based democracy. Our unique mission of service, established and sustained by the Congress of the United States, continues to inspire me, and the millions of Americans who use our extraordinary resources and services every year.

The Library will complete in September a new strategic plan for the next five years and will bring on a new permanent Chief Information Officer to join our team. Over the years I have been asked if I have been thinking about retirement; and the answer has always been “not really,” because this has always been not just my job but my life. And my thoughts have always been focused on its future. I have never had more faith in the leadership and staff of the Library of Congress. The Library’s new top management team is as deeply experienced and creatively collegial as any I have ever known. I am confident that they will continue to innovate, adapt and improve on the work we have all undertaken during my time as Librarian of Congress.

When I joined the Library in 1987, I tried to visit with each and every staff member that worked here and in my last six months as Librarian of Congress, I hope to do the same. I want to tell each of you how much I have valued and trusted your work, your judgment, your honesty and your dedication to the future of this great library.

You, the staff of the Library of Congress, are one-of-a-kind like this institution itself. We have much to look forward to in the coming months:

  • Celebrating the 15th annual National Book Festival on September 5th at the Washington Convention Center.
  • Conferring the next Nobel-level Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the study of Humanity.
  • Honoring another music legend with the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
  • And making a special effort by all of us to capture the oral histories of America’s wartime servicemen and women as the Veteran’s History Project celebrates its 15th anniversary.

As always, we will continue to provide quality and unparalleled service to Congress and to the American people.

So let me especially thank two groups:

The Congress for their continued bipartisan support of America’s national library, and all of the Library of Congress staff, for making my years as Librarian and those of my wife Marjorie, the most fulfilling and unforgettable years of our lives.

In closing, I remember an older Native American librarian I met following a talk I gave, early in my tenure, to the Library Association of the Great Plains. He wanted to correct the definition I had given of librarians as gatekeepers to knowledge. He quietly said to me: "Long before we began keeping everything important in libraries we kept it all in the mind and memory of a trusted elder of our tribe. But we never thought of him as a gatekeeper – we called him our dreamkeeper."

So Godspeed to all of you, keepers on Capitol Hill of the essential American dream that we all share – that if more people can have access to more knowledge and creativity to use in more ways with and for more of our people – then together with faith and hard work, however great the problems we face today, tomorrow in America can still be better than yesterday.

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PR 15-106
2015-06-10
ISSN 0731-3527