15 Jun

Sort of funny that Congress lets older people in the Supreme Court leave their jobs feet first in a technically challenged world under constant cyber attack while Dr. Billington is being shown the exit portal under the guise of a new world ordered by IT.

Longtime librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, will retire from his post, effective Jan. 1.

America’s loss.

I have known Dr. and Mrs. Billington since the first month I moved to DC in 2003. If anyone was destined to be the Librarian of Congress for life leaving feet first, I knew that person was Dr. Billington. A presence on the DC social scene, Dr. and Mrs. Billington looked the parts, wizened creases, whitened hair, Mrs. B. Wearing pearls with purses that rivaled Queen E, Elizabeth, that is. In fact, the TV series “Librarians” failed because the mentor wise old guardian of the secrets was not modeled after Dr. B.

The last time I saw the Dr. and Mrs. B. was at the annual National Book Festival newly homed in the Convention Center. Philanthropist David Rubenstein was just off his panel, scampering down to greet Dr. and Mrs. Billington where they were sitting, front row.

It was one of those rare moments I wished I was a Selfie Slut followed by an entourage of TV crew to capture that funny DC moments where someone of note someone misgauges who some else is.

I had introduced myself, and my God In The Temples Of Government pictorials, earlier to Mr. Rubinstein. The look of puzzlement on his face was ….standard for DC… a city filled shakers who don’t recognize movers, so to speak, who stay beneath the radar, deliberately. Twelve years in LA were enough to cure me any desire for red carpets and stalkings, not silk ones, but fans with glass eyes or vengeance or lunacy camouflaged by their chameleon ability to appear normal or ‘real.’

Mrs. Billington saw me. Her face glowed in her moment of recognition. We leaned in, kissed cheek to cheek, embraced catching up in rapid fire the last few years of absence from each others lives. Yes, in DC, life catch ups can occur in seconds, until the next time.

The puzzled look on Mr. Rubenstein’s was precious as he watched my intimate engagement with pillars of the Library of Congress. I was part of ‘that’ inner circle he rotates in. My seven league boots always kept me being that ‘one’ stomping tall grass others trailed through, behind.

It had been a few years since I saw Dr. and Mrs. Billington. I left the DC news scene rather abruptly. I missed my Billington encounters. We shared a passion, the Library of Congress, to me that one and only building to visiting DC if your time to tour was limited. Besides, the Library has the best swag in the Capitol, free, a definite brag swag few others know to secure the Library card, of course. Totally, awesome to boast ‘ TJ and I have something in common.’

TJ? Thomas Jefferson, of course, the man behind the Temple of Learning.

The good doctor had slowed some. Mrs. Billington, well, she has grown more elegant over the years. Some women have that eternal internal elegance. I cant imagine the Library without Dr. Billington. He is one of the longest serving members of the Administration. Thirty years is almost a lifetime to some.

In DC. abrupt never happens for no reason. That there was a reason, would reveal itself as the pages, so to speak, turned.

Dr. Billington is a Reagan appointee. The Library of Congress’ collection size has doubled under his tenure, transitioning from a ‘library’ to an ‘i-brary.’ A digital library had been added. The chicken and the egg conversation is which came first the digital innovations or the Digital innovations or the Library staff cut of 30%.

Few know that the Library of Congress is an educational beast that is constantly fed, a hydra of history, so to speak, said to be keeping Legislators abreast of the loop of madness exploding around the world.

In 2014, the Library of Congress offices acquired more than 800,000 items; reformatted more than 1.3 million pages of newspapers, periodicals and pamphlets from 79 countries spanning 120 different languages.

Six of the Library of Congress’s offices are overseas offices some even placed intentionally in unstable regions. The Library of Congress staff says those offices  are ready and able to rescue, archive, catalog and share books, publications, newspapers, maps, videos, recorded sounds and photographs even Osama bin Laden’s autobiography, that legislators need to learn from, you know,  that historic stuff that drones don’t capture in today’s war on terrorism.

March 17, the Senate Legislative BranchAppropriations Subcommittee chaired by chairwoman Senator Shelley Capito, adressing the Library of Congress and Architect of the Capitol budget requests, adressed news reports of ISIS destroying artifacts of their regions ancient civilizations.” Capito called the Library of Congress the ‘world’s resource.’  *********** Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, ranking member of the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee, said, the Library of Congress reaches to places where we would lose these important publications to history, to the ashes, or to floods, or to the simple lack of ability to share and preserve them.”Debbie had done LOC’s office in  Cairo, Egypt, Middle East, along with seven other legislators. Debbie and her  entourage  met the LOC office acting director, Beacher Wiggins, a man Wasserman Schultz describes as loving his work. Wiggin’s Cairo office gathers ‘stuff’ from 23 countries in the surrounding region, including Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

Schultz said, “was very clear about how important it is and what would be lost if we were not there.”  Schultz failed to mention how he failed to protect the Jewel  of  Aleppo and other antiquities bought, sold, stolen for trade. Schultz failed to mention the cost of maintaining one man’s office in a world of crowd sourcing.

Wiggins says Cairo and Islamabad, Pakistan are two offices with high security risk with other LOC oversea offices located in Jakarta, Indonesia; Nairobi, Kenya; New Dehli, India; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The LOC says these offices are ‘vital’ for understanding the tumultuous Middle East, salvaging and protecting materials.

Mark Sweeney, the LOC’s associate librarian for library services, said security costs for protecting its overseas offices have increased. $$$$$$

Senator Murphy said, he gained an appreciation for all of this ‘material in Arabic’ the LOC said America couldn’t get its hands without “personnel on the ground in the Middle East.”

Wiggins said most of the LOC offices are housed in US Embassy compounds, employing more than 200 foreign nationals, alleging their local and language knowledge are invaluable to the Library’s mission. Wiggins said that these satellite offices cost the Library $10.1 million total of the Library’s more than $600 million fees excluding the $2.5 million annual security fees. though the offices are typically housed in U.S. embassy compounds. Those costs exclude acquisitions travel costs. Wiggins says budget cuts mean directors have to prioritize which countries the director wants to visit. Wiggins says some director are learning to relearn their local area.

GAO, Government Accountability Office reports released before Dr. Billington’s retirement criticized management weaknesses” in the Library of Congress’ IT divisions. Wiggins said the Library shrank its overseas presence to six offices, in 1887, that the Library wont close its offices. The Library instead lead its lead ludite, it’s grand wizard of knowledge, go.

The GAO report said the Library can’t ensure they are meeting cost, schedule and performance goals; can’t deliver the agency capabilities to carry out the Library’s mission; and said the Library’s IT systems are at risk of cyber spying and attack citing the library doesn’t always test technical security controls, putting the Library’s systems and information at risk of compromise. This GAO report was released after the Military was hacked, the IRS was hacked and practically everyone, else on the planet was hacked in a world that cannot be protected. Period.

Point made. Dr. Billington was wanted out. The good Doctor did as his job mandated, with he and his staff pledging to follow through on several of the GAO recommendations.

Dr. Billington is a luddite, the exact person you want near you when broadband reaches its band width, when the lights go out, and when the world is thrust into chaos caused by millennials whose brains work only when the PDA lights are on, whose elevators wont reach the penthouse suites when climate warming considerations collide with practical and simple purpose. Dr. Billington will know how to read and write and communicate, simply said.

The GAO report said the Copyright Office also mismanages it’s IT “upgrades and investments.”

The GAO said the LOC is weak in four areas- strategic planning, investment management, information security and privacy, service management and leadership. The report says the LOC does not “effectively managing” the $119 million allocated for IT in 2014 and that the LOC does not have an “effective process for taking inventory of materials.” The report says Library officials claim the Library has about 6,500 computers in use. A wire to wall count tabulated 18,000 computers. Do the federal employee a Golden Hammer math.

The Library’s acting chief information officer, Elizabeth Scheffler, says the Library is adjusting to a dramatic growth in digital materials., collecting things like Legislator tweets, staff selfie’s as such available to anyone including those with nefarious intentions.  Scheffler admits the Library grossly underestimated technology long term storing considerations.

The Register of Copyrights, Maria Pallante, the GAO, the day after the March 17 hearing, stating her office has to move to digital technology, taking her lead from Congress. Congress is questioning, coincidentally, if the Register of Copyrights should be under the LOC, to begin with. Friends and fans are fickle in DC when it comes to budgets and gain. The story doesn’t usually write itself best until after a crack, somewhere is uncovered then pried open. The wedge now that moved DR. billing ton to forced retirement is, CIO, chief information officer, sorta funny, when you hunk of it, after all this is the Internet age where ‘everyone’ pitches in and everyone is vulnerable, too.

Hence, my not accepting that Dr. Billington wanted to retire but instead, was shown the open portals he could walk through.

Congressional accolades trickled on to the Internet, post announcement. Sad, considering the millions of tourists that walk through the L oC doors annually.

Dr. Billington is ending his reign the way he began it. Dr. Billington announced he will go door to door, desk to desk of each employee, thanking them for being part of his history in service to books and America. Dr. Billing said in his video to the library, “Over the years I have been asked if I have been thinking about retiring; and the answer has always been ‘not really,’ because this library has always been not just my job, but my life… However, 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, and I am confident that they will continue to innovate, adapt and improve on the work we have undertaken during my time as Librarian of Congress.”

Dr. Billington is saying good-bye, an outstanding man showing leadership as he lets go of TJ’s. Book Place, and the steerage of the wheel of history from the poop deck of this man’s ship, navigating what was a good idea that grew into a behemoth gourging gargantuan data preservation.

Thank you Dr. and Mrs. B for a decade of being seen….


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