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How many government employees in Washington have been there since the Reagan years? Not too many, but one of them is James Billington, Librarian of Congress.
He moves a little more slowly now, at 82, and gets more questions about whether he’s thinking of retiring, but that seems to be the last thing on James Billington’s mind as he begins his 25th year as the Librarian of Congress (however, he is not credentialed as a librarian).
“I have no plans at this point — sorry to disappoint you,” a reflective Billington said during an hourlong interview with The Hill. “The Lord’s been very kind, and I’m in the middle of a lot of interesting things. And of course, it’s a time when all cultural institutions are facing lots of challenges.”
Billington, who was sworn in as the 13th Librarian of Congress on Sept. 14, 1987, outlined some of those challenges when asked about the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks, given that the Library was the first to publish Osama bin Laden’s autobiography and the first to discover papers that raised concerns about terrorists hijacking airliners.
“Speaking as an American, like all other Americans I share in the horror and outrage and the deep concern and expressions of sympathy, and in the way in which the country was suddenly conscious of fragility when we all thought we were secure,” he said.
“But I think it’s astonishing that America, which has the largest cerebral industry in the history of the world, utterly failed to anticipate either of the three arguably greatest geopolitical phenomena of the last half-century — the explosion of radical Islam, the implosion of the Soviet Union and the meltdown of the great globalized economy that was to create a whole new agenda for the world,” he said.
Billington, who has worked closely with libraries in the Arab world and written five books on Russia, added, “These are three very different phenomena, but they all have in common a tendency to rely on the analysis of things you can quantify, and the neglect of vast areas of human motivation and cultural varieties of experience.
More from The Hill.