John J. Beckley
US$183,300 Level II of the Executive Schedule
The Librarian of Congress is the head of the Library of Congress, appointed by the President of the United States with the advice and consent of the United States Senate, for a term of ten years. The Librarian of Congress appoints the U.S. Poet Laureate and awards the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
The Librarian of Congress has broad responsibilities around copyright, extending to electronic resources and fair use provisions outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The Librarian determines whether particular works are subject to DMCA prohibitions regarding technological access protection. On July 13, 2016, the US Senate confirmed Carla Hayden as the librarian by a vote of 74-18 and she was sworn in on September 14, 2016.
On April 24, 1800, the 6th United States Congress passed an appropriations bill signed by President John Adams which created the Library of Congress. This law was to serve a "further provision for the removal and accommodation of the Government of the United States." The fifth section of the act specifically created the Library of Congress and designated some of its early capabilities. The act provided for "the acquisition of books for congressional use, a suitable place in the Capitol in which to house them, a joint committee to make rules for their selection, acquisition, and circulation," as well as an appropriation of $5,000 for it to get started.
In 1802, two years after the creation of the Library, President Thomas Jefferson approved a Congressional Act that created the Office of the Librarian and granted the President power of appointment over the new office. Shortly thereafter, Jefferson appointed his former campaign manager John J. Beckley to serve as the first Librarian of Congress. It was not until 1897 that Congress was given the power to confirm the President’s nominee. This same law gave the Librarian the sole power for making the institution’s rules and appointing the Library’s staff.
For the majority of its history, the position was not subject to term limits, essentially making an appointment a life-term. Most Librarians of Congress have served until death or retirement. As a result, from 1802 to 2015, the United States only had 13 appointed Librarians and the Library "enjoyed a continuity of atmosphere and of policy that is rare in national institutions." However, in 2015, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed into law the "Librarian of Congress Succession Modernization Act of 2015" which put a 10-year term limit on the position with an option for reappointment. The legislation was seen as a critique of Librarian James H. Billington's unwillingness to hire a permanent Chief Information Officer to effectively manage and update the Library's Information Technology.
There are no laws or regulations delineating qualifications for the office holder. The position of Librarian of Congress has been held by candidates of different backgrounds, interests, and talents, throughout its history. Politicians, businessmen, authors, poets, lawyers, and one professional librarian have served as the Librarian of Congress. However, at various times there have been proposals for requirements for the position. In 1945, Carl Vitz, then president of the American Library Association, wrote a letter to the President of the United States regarding the position of Librarian of Congress, which had recently become vacant. Vitz felt it necessary to recommend potential librarians. Vitz stated the position "requires a top-flight administrator, a statesman-like leader in the world of knowledge, and an expert in bringing together the materials of scholarship and organizing them for use—in short, a distinguished librarian." In 1989, Congressman Major R. Owens (D–NY) introduced a bill to set stricter requirements for who may be appointed. He argued appointed Librarians need to have specialized training; the bill did not become law.