tv Panel Discussion on Former Librarian of Congress James Billington CSPAN February 7, 2016 5:00pm-6:31pm EST
>> we have this scenario where, you know, basically you have to pretend to be something you're not, and the unfortunate part is that in order to panderer to, say like, republican primary voters in iowa, you have to adopt a persona and a style that would actually hurt you when it comes to winning over millennials finish. >> right. >> or cos cosmopolitan americano i believe are turned off by the cultural baggage and the stylistic stereotypes of what we think of when we think of conservative. >> "after words" airs on booktv every saturday at 10 p.m. and sunday at 9 p.m. eastern. you can watch all previous
"after words"' programs on our web site, booktv.org. >> and now a panel on the life and career of recently-retired librarian of congress james billington. [inaudible conversations] >> good afternoon. please take your seats. my understanding is we're live on c-span, so behave yourselves. inform.-- [laughter] welcome to valentine's day a bit early. i'm jane harman, the president and ceo of the wilson center, and i can't and we can't imagine what the wilson center would look like today if nobody had been smart enough to put jim
billington in charge. [applause] we'd have no kennon institute, no wilson quarterly, two projects at the heart of what we do. who knows how many friends, how much wisdom we would have missed out on. jim played a special role in my own education, my russian education. we crossed paths while i was in moscow on a congressional delegation, and he took us all on a tour of the creme lip. kremlin. priceless. jim, your command of russia, its history and its culture shows up everyone here. you've forgotten more than any of us knows. lucky for us, you wrote it all down and published it with the wilson center press. [laughter] pleasure every dear friend in the room today can back me up on
just how impressive you are, and there are many dear friends here. let me just recognize a few in particular, some of whom are participating in the conversation to follow. former u.s. ambassador to russia, jim collins. vartan get gore january, the one and only vartan gregorian, president of -- for sure, forever -- president of the carnegie association. ismail serageldin, and they're joining us to celebrate your service. we're also lucky to be joined by latvian ambassador to the united states, the latvian ambassador, acting librarian of congress, david mao, and jane mcauliffe, the library's director of outreach and a delegate to our board. grace mckennan -- i haven't seen grace. there she is. hi, grace. grace's family has done so much to shape this institution. and diana davis spencer who has
been such a friend to our work. gatherings like this remind me just what an impact the center has with friends and alumni around the globe including hundreds from russia and ukraine even now, we put the best scholars and brilliant staff to work on the most important issues. we learned that from you, jim. you always put scholarship at the heart of our work. no one who knows you would be surprised. some may already know this, but jim and his daughter susan -- sitting right here -- were the first father/daughter pair to win rhodes scholarships. you can applaud for that. [applause] throughout your service here at the open world leadership center and at the library of congress, you've shown exceptional service to the ideal woodrow wilson and
we all share, knowledge in the public service. it's an honor to celebrate that today with so many extraordinary individuals, including your own family right in the front row -- marjorie, your amazing marjorie, tom, susan, katie, sarah and others who were not able to join us here. and i hope you're as proud as we are of what the wilson center has been able to build on a foundation that you laid down. thanks for years of dear friendship with me and my late husband sidney and with so many in this room, and congratulations on the example you have set for us all. it's now my delight to welcome matt projanuary sky back to america -- matt rojansky back to america and back to the wilson center. in case some of you have never seen him before, he's hiding under a beard and is the director of the institute, and we're very proud that he's here.
and i also, obviously, have to recognize blair ruble who i'm sure will be introduced who was the longstanding director of the kennon institute and is now our vice president for programs. so please welcome home matt rojansky. [applause] >> thanks, jane. i seem to recall there was this line in the job description for director of the kennon institute that said something about up to 25% of your time travel. it turns out russia and ukraine are pretty far away and other important places like china are even farther. thank you for the welcome, jane. i just want to put it simply, the crowd in this room both the quantity and the quality and in particular the quality of the people right up here on the podium are testament to this man, jim billington. so just a round of applause for all of you. [applause] this is really an incredible
gathering, and i'm enormously privileged and intimidated to be sitting in the middle. so if i slide under the table in the midst of the proceedings, you'll know why. [laughter] one of the priorities i had when i joined the institute as its new director was to meet with dr. billington. that was an experience that i'll always remember. i learned a tremendous amount about the founding of the institute, the personalityies, unique characters, all, who were involved, the war stories about its early days in the wilson center. but the main thing that i took away was his description of the urgent need and the complex challenge of creating such a center for advanced russian studies in the nation's capital at the height of the cold war. it meant a great deal to hear firsthand from one of the coof founders of the kennan institute that it was designed to foster the development of general understanding about then-soviet
russia as well as the development of experts grounded in broad and deep knowledge about the region. the idea was to arrest and reverse a decline in america's capacity to understand that part of the world. now, that reminds me of some research i did recently while far away from washington d.c. i was doing a fellowship at nato, and this gave me a chance to research george kennan's original thinking and writing about the need for a capacity to understand russia and the united states. george kennan, of course, co-founded the kennan institute with jim billington and with fred starr, and he wrote in his 1946 long telegram that the united states government should see that our public is educated to the realities of the russian situation. for he cautioned: there's nothing as dangerous or as terrifying as the unknown. and so he called for the study of russia with courage, detachment and objectivity. these, i believe, are the values upon which dr. billington,
ambassador kennan and dr. starr founded the institute here at the wilson center, and i like to believe they're the values we preserve and uphold to this day. but i also think many of us in this room are aware of the challenge of this moment, the precipitous decline in our government's support for this type of scholarship now and the resulting passty of experts -- paucity of experts on this region. so i think it's especially timely for us to gather to celebrate a man who, as the title's panel suggestions, has made a career of advancing not only knowledge, but knowledge in public service. i know that we at the kennan institute bear that legacy and that mission firmly in mind as our guiding star. i want to thank jim for taking the time to meet with a newly-minted kennan director that day a couple of years ago to show him what is possible vergingly with one's career -- eventually with one's career if one has the insight and the courage that jim billington has brought to bear. i want to thank the billington
family, his wife marjorie, daughter susan and son thomas, i want to thank grace kennan be for joining us, and i want to thank, of course, this distinguished panel which i'll have the privilege of moderating today. with the panelists' permission, i will simply proceed in the order in which i have the bios, offer a brief introduction -- i think that these are people whose backgrounds speak for themselves. we'll begin with ismail serageldin, he's the founding director of the new library of alexandria inaugurated in 2002. he chairs the board of directors for the library's affiliated institutes and museums, he advises the egyptian prime minister on matters including culture, science and museums, and he's held many important international positions. he's a chair and member of many advisory committees for academic research and sign terrific
international institutions -- scientific international institutions, has been involved in many important international organizations, has published over 100 books and monographs and over 500 papers on a variety of topics. what is not mentioned in the bio is that the library was first established entirely of works written by -- [laughter] he has hosted a cultural program on television in egypt and developed a scientific television series in arabic and english. his bachelor of science degree in engineering is from cairo university and his master's degree and ph.d. is from harvard university. and he's received 34 honorary doctorates which i understand also composes the wallpaper now of the library. [laughter] >> thank you. thank you, matthew. ladies and gentlemen, i'm delighted to be with you today to honor an amazing individual. james hadley billington, and to do so in the presence of his
lovely wife marjorie and his children, susan and thomas, as well as so many friends. now, how do you think the measure of a man? by his accomplishments but also by the love that he has generated among family, friends and colleagues. although i believe i qualify as a friend and that i could speak volumes about my love for jim, i would nevertheless like to focus my remarks on jim billingtop, the librarian of congress, and his legacy. more precisely, one aspect of that legacy which is the international aspect and even more specifically of two prompts he initiated and of which i have been personally involved. but first, i want to note that he is undoubtedly a towering intellect, a great teacher and a superb builder of institutions. from teaching history at harvard and princeton, he went on to the fulbright program, the library of congress and, as a scholar, he and i used to discuss many things from the center's mission
to lincoln's gettysburg address and the special music that we find in it. i was touched and impressed that he was able to recall from memory another ismail, the revolutionary figure of old. and his books, including fire in the hearts of men, the icon and the axe and many others as well as his russian culture programs were an inspiration. but i leave others to speak on these facets of his enormously productive career. let me cite a few things that he did and had a great impact on me starting from before i became the librarian of congress -- of alexandria in 2001. i am a lifelong bib low file, and i used to -- bibliophile, and i used to get nightmares at the idea of so many books published on acidic paper, and it was jim billington who launched a deacidification program which extended the life
span of almost four million volumes, and he provided new storage facilities and opened that in 2002, and four million items are now available there. now, during his tenure at the library of congress, jim billington double ld the size of the library's traditional analog collections to more than 160 million items in 2014, but he also pioneered many of its digital programs and its international initiatives. now, jim billington did not rely on increased government funding. indeed, he did all he did by presiding over a 30% reduction in staff. but jim was truly a fundraise arer extraordinaire. recall his creation of the madison council, the facility for motion pictures as well as the american music legacy program. ah, but all that is but a small part of his enormous legacy. more than a skilled administrator, jim billington was a true visionary. he comes from the library of congress on the analog to the
digital age, from the primary library in the usa to the primary library in the world. not just in terms of number of acquisitions, where maybe the british library may still have a slight edge, but also in terms of its leadership in the content and quality of librarian withship. he kept it at the forefront as the standard setter for the world. not only by sharing know how with others, but also by designing new standards for the digital age. so he insured that the library of congress, for example, produced the resource description and access to rda in 2010, a new cataloging standard for the digital age which we are all adopting, and starting in 2011 the design of big frame has started, a data model for bib lo graphic description which will become the new standard for the whole world in the next year or two. jim billington cooked with -- coped with the ict revolution
differently than most people. he saw the need from going beyond merely putting material online and addressed the need to link the various parts in such a way that the whole is more than the sum of the parts. yes, he did. for he understood before anyone else it was not just about the quantity of material that can be digitized and put out on the web for search engines of the world led by google to find snippets here and there of material; rather, this was going to happen anyway. but what counted was how an institution like the library of congress presents these materials to the public. jim was the first to recognize this with the american memory program. and he was the first to take this into an international partnership with the world digital library program. now, i know many may think that jim billington would be a tech no phobe given his age and his love of books, but he had a profound understanding of the real impacts of the ict revolution that so many of the
tech no feels who were simply -- he understood that it opened up avenues for new kinds of communication about our cultural heritage and our common humanity. jim billington understood that getting a person into a roomful of disorganized books, files, pictures, bric-a-brac would be useless in pollution understanding. true -- in producing understanding. serving up information in that fashion to the public is not the vocation of a librarian or the aspiration of an intellectual. selectivity, creation and presentation were needed. and as early as 1990, jim was the first to understand that the simple digitization of lots of material and putting it on the internet would simply be the equivalent of bringing that room full of disorganized files to the person's hands delivered
through the computers. ah, but bring him a collection created, interlinked to each person's internet, that would be something different. digital creation is all about the selection, preservation, p maintenance, collection and or archiving of these digital assets. it establishes, maintains and adds value to the repositories for present be future use. this is a work that is accomplished by archivists, librarians, scientists, historians and scholars. but it's the design of the links and the explanations that was also targeted to an audience that covers the, k-12 range of the next generation. then what was simply a collection of data became an enormously valuable learning tool. thus, one of the signature programs of the library of congress was born, the american memory program, which according to jim had to be understood by a 10-year-old. the american program launched in 1990 was not only a pioneering program, it was enormous.
to date, it has put online more than 20 million more than historical items from the collections of the library and other research institutions. and jim also championed the library's many other internet services beyond the american memory program. there is the congressional database, the online card catalog, the u.s. copyright office, web site for children and families called america's library and all of that is really used. in 2013 i noticed the library had recorded 84 million visits and 519 million page views. in fact, i got to know jim through the american memory program when i was vice president of the world bank, and i was fascinated to learn more about that program. and from that contact i was fascinated by the man, the intellectual and the historian and the wisdom that he possessed. now, ladies and gentlemen, we are today more than ever overwhelmed by the amount of data we generate. but data, when organized, becomes information, and
information -- when explained -- becomes knowledge. but humanity needs more than knowledge. we need wisdom. now, wisdom is a different quality. it is not an attribute of youth. the young can be intelligent, brilliant, even geniuses. but we would not attribute wisdom to them. we may say that young man is wise beyond his years. why? because wisdom's a quality that comes from experience and reflection. merging of the intellect with the lessons of a life well lived, with knowledge as acquired in the pattern of age, and jim billington brought wisdom to the tasks that he chose to pursue. now, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to turn to two programs that i had the privilege of working closely with jim on their initiation and their continuation to this day. the world digital library and the international summit of the book. the world digital library is an ambitious and visionary program launched by jim, supported by
unesco. it brought together 181 libraries from 81 countries. wdl focused on quality, not quantity and brought together curated material from all over the world covering maps, man you scripts, pictures and books in some 112 languages, presented and created material in seven languages. and jim insured that the library of congress provided the secretariat for the task and a superb team from the loc under the able leadership of john bennett who's here today has indeed set a very high standard for the cure ration presentation of the selected materials in a manner worthy of presenting the cultures of the world in all their richness and diversity. now, the wdl is quite small library, ah, but the entire library of congress started with a mere 6,500 books from the jefferson collection. wdl today stands at 14,000 items and 600,000 images, nothing by comparison to what the internet provides.
but it still succeeds in attracting 4 million visitors a year and is referenced by an amazing 3.3 million links from the internet into the wdl. thus, it's quality recorded and recognized. now, visionaries are those who see the need for things others ignore. jim billington did that in launching the international summit of the book. jim believed that the world should annually celebrate the book. the instrument of cultural development and cultural continuity throughout all the cultures of the world. he initiated the summit, he called in unesco to support it, and he and congressman john -- [inaudible] deserve immense credit for that. it was launched at the library of congress in december 2012, and i had the privilege of delivering the opening keynote address. i have re-recorded that address
at the library of alexandria, and i'm happy to give this to you as a keepsake with a text copy inside as well. i'm happy to give it to you as a souvenir. now, since that time we took the summit to singapore, paris and alexandria. i participated in each of these events, and next year it goes to ireland as your initiative lives on. ladies and gentlemen, as i said, i have been privileged to work closely with jim billington and his marvelous colleagues on these two particular programs, the world digital library launched in 2009, and the international summit of the book launched in 2012. this last year i presided at the annual meeting of both events in november 2015, just after jim had retired on september 30th. it is telling that the participants in both events asked me to convey a special appreciation to jim billington on their behalf, and i have both of these documents here to deliver to jim billington.
[applause] but i need to read to you what the text says. the members of the world digital library assembled in alexandria, egypt, on november 6, 2015. having learned of the retirement of james h. billington, initiator of the world digital library, wish to formally record our esteem for his exemplary leadership and our profound appreciation of his countless contributions that made the world digital library a reality. with our best wishes for a happy and serene retirement knowing that your legacy lives on and goes from strength to strength. now, the at the same time, back to back, like we did in 2012 we also had the international summit of the book. and there it's the text is somewhat different if the ambition is the tame.
it say -- the same. it says we, the librarians, intellectuals and book lovers assembled in alexandria, egypt, to celebrate the fourth international summit of the book, carrying the torch of the previous summits initiated at the library of congress in 2012, carried forward in singapore in 2013 and paris, 2014, hereby record our esteem for and appreciation of the initiative and vision of james h. billington, librarian of congress, and initiator of the international summit of the book. with profound thanks from all of us and the untold millions of book lovers in the world for the book was, is, and remains the primary form of cultural communication and transmission of knowledge across space and time. ladies and gentlemen, we salute jim billington not only the librarian of congress, but also as the librarian for the world. builder of great institutions, visionary leader of a legendary
institution, a great library made greater by your tenure at its helm, a world enriched by the visions that you have advanced, the dreams that you believed in, the people that you nurtured, the culture that you cared for so much. jim, we thank you for all you have done, but above all, we thank you for being the wonderful person that you are. [applause] [inaudible conversations] >> thank you, ismail. that was truly moving. and i would say worthy, perhaps, of a world library in its scope and certain he of digitization
for posterity. i'm particularly glad that we have the cameras here doing that. next it's my privilege to introduce vartan gregorian, as jane said, the one and only. he's the 12th president of the carnegie corporation of new york, grant mason institution founded by andrew carnegie in 1911. he assumed that position in 1997 before which he served as president of brown university, and before that from 1981-1989 as president of the new york public library. he himself was born in iran to armenian parents and received his elementary education in iran and his secondary education in lebanon. in 1956 he entered stanford university where he majored in history and the humanities and graduated with honorrings. he was awarded a ph.d. in history from stanford in 1964. he taught european and middle eastern history at san francisco state college, university of california l.a., university of texas at austin and in 1972 he
joined the university of pennsylvania where he was appointed professor of history and professor of south asian history. he was a founding dean of the faculty of arts and sciences at the university of pennsylvania and later became its 23rd provost. he's the author of a great many books including the road to home: my life and times, islam: a mosaic, not a monolith, and the emergence of modern afghanistan, 1880-1946. one might argue it is still emerging -- [laughter] which is reissued in 2013 with a new introduction. he's received a great many fellowshipses and awards -- fellowships and awards in addition to -- and i can see that we have a competition brewing -- 70 honorary degrees. [laughter] but here's the great thing, when you're at this level, you just call all your friends, and you give each other degrees. [laughter] in 1998 president clinton can --
that's not how it works. okay. president clinton awarded him the national humanities medal, and in 2004 president bush awarded him the medal of freedom, the nation's highst civil award. in 2009 president obama appointed him to the white house fellowships commission. he currently serves on a great many boards including the institute for advanced study and the national september 11th memorial museum. vartan. the floor is yours. >> thank you very much. mr. serageldin gave my speech, so while he was talking, i am putting together some notes to say something meaningful because ismail is very cultured, very comprehensive, and very precise. so i'm going to try to see what i can deserve to follow as a footnote to him. [laughter] let me just mention one thing. nation has several great
libraries. library of congress is the best in our nation and the world. it's world's largest library but also expanding library. libraries are not depositories, just putting things in the whole and then taken care of. i remember inn deer raganty invite me years ago to visit indian libraries, and i did. and i told them to jim when i went to calcutta, met a librarian and said what are you doing? we're following library of congress example, two volumes of each book published in india going to reserve. what do you do? we send to the basement. what happens afterwards? not my obligation. [laughter] so having book, having collection carries historical obligation and duties, how to reserve it. because librarians are custodians of not only the book,
but our heritage, the memory of mankind, of all his accomplishments, all his failures, all his aspirationings. hence, we need libraries in order not to have self-inflicted alzheimer's disease as a nation. good libraries there -- are there to remind us always. second, as president of new york public library, i have to tell you that's where i get to know james really and appreciate him for several reasons. in 1968 when i joined faculty of university of texas at austin, i was part of a committee who wanted to lure -- that's a powerful academic team -- to lure or to send feelers to see whether jim will be willing to join university of texas faculty. well, it did not happen, unfortunately. for texas, fortunately for jim.
and then i transfer to the university of pennsylvania, there's another move to lure jim billington to university of pennsylvania. that also did not happen. but what happened was woodrow wilson institute -- thank god -- and also what happened is library of congress. now, i have to confess that after i became president of new york public library, i realized two things about my position. many librarians dislike the fact that nation's top positions go to nonlibrarians. that's a fact. and rightly so. we spend all our lives in the library profession, and harvard library, new york public library, they all go to nonlibrarians and most of it to historians. and i proposed new york public library librarians that in order to repair the damage, i'll be happy to get a master of library
sciences. and they uniformly announced my move. [laughter] but i'm saying this because it's natural, the tension. because -- and i also understand why historians are chosen for this position. because one is to add a curl churl perspective -- a cultural perspective, and one is also you're not hiding especially, you're hiding also an intellectual. because library by its very demand requires all these qualifications. that's why ismail said -- [inaudible] on whose board i serve, by the way, and he gives equally beautiful speeches at the board meetings -- [laughter] you should know that, jim. but at the same time, jim is all those three; historian, lover of the book, bib low file, intellectual, curious about all
cultures. he told me one of the most unexplored, unused collections in the library of congress are german publications from nebraska, from iowa, wherever german immigrants came. and i was, i started movement, let's start a foundation to utilize, exploit all the german publications library. he said it with such passion that i thought he was asking me to raise money in order to study german collections of the library of congress. [laughter] and the other thing jim helped me when i was president of the new york public library to go acid free. one of my first acts thanks to barbara goldsmith and all the writers, we brought hundred
writers to vouch that they will not allow any of their publications to be published on sid paper. and -- acid paper. and that is a tremendous thing. and i owe thanks to jim because i consulted him at the time. jim also appreciates historical anniversaries. not just the bicentennial of this great institution, the library of congress, but the fact also the act established in the middle of civil war, established public university and acts of lincoln, president lincoln. in the middle of civil or war, president lincoln started senator morrell's act which created public universities. they also established a commission in the middle of civil war to study the merits of metric measures. [laughter] can you imagine that? if anybody does that --
[inaudible] but they were interested in nation's future x that's what they were doing -- and that's what they were doing. they were building a future. so jim helped us together with exhibition on morrell act, and we published entire lincoln speeches in library of america, and we sent to every congressman, every governor, lieutenant governor, president, vice president of united states first republican president's speeches. only three of hem returned. -- them returned, because it was more than $50. and i send them to their alma mater, i say refused by but kindly send to alma mater. now, one other thing i want to mention about jim, jim is one of most eloquent, articulate, gives
around the ticklations of the book -- articulations of the book. it was mentioned here if you have not read the meaning of the library: a cultural history, by alice crawford, in that there's a chapter by jim. and i'd like to read one paragraph only. books are our guardians of memory, tourist in language, pathways to reason, our golden gate to the royal road of imagination, the oasis of coherence where things are put together rather than just taken apart. beautiful. i also believe that books are our only companions for life, though some people may choose it to any form they want. but i assure you, which i did once before, somebody told me the entire greek literature is in this cell phone. i congratulate it.
have you read it? no. [laughter] so it doesn't matter. you're in storage business. you're taking from this storage to mini storage to another storage. that's what not progress is. progress is to be able to get it, not confuse means with the end. i was reminded of mark twain when maine was connected to san francisco, either mark twain or thoreau said maine has been connected to san francisco, and maine has nothing to say to san francisco. [laughter] so technology is great, but communication is to build communities. and that's what library of congress does. it has -- [inaudible] not because library of congress demanded it, but the librarians of congress as librarians do, that they're responsible for the welfare of all the other libraries in our nation.
so opening collections to all the small libraries and others was a great tribute to jim and all the other librarians who tried to do that. and i don't want to take more time, but i'll tell you several other things about jim. jim also is in charge of -- [speaking [speaking in native tongue] it's remarkable. i could not work for bureaucracy. but bureaucracies are are necessary to make our democracy function. what we need is not to be anti-bureaucratic, to be anti-incompetent bureaucrats. [laughter] because to me the three original sins rig in accordance with -- rig nance, incompetence. librarians, heads of libraries, heads of all institutions, otherwise our cultural institutions will atrophy, and
the system becomes more important than the medium, becomes more important than message conveys. so today we face -- and this is my last year, that's why i'm saying this -- every american, everybody in the world for the first time in creation since history has their own library of alexandria. you don't have to be pharoah anymore. you are already pharoah. what you do with it, what you don't do with it is the crime of the century. if you don't do justice to fact that you have your own library which pharoahs fought to built, preserve, now you have it at your fingertips to receive, to read, to think, don't blame for lack of pictures, lack of books, lack of institutions, but lack of instinctive search for knowledge and wisdom.
as ismail said, t.s. elliott summed up very well. where is wisdom in knowledge. that's what we need, distillation of everything into wisdom and knowledge. library of congress also international in nature. and that's a what ismail has worked with. that's why i also have great pride to have dealt with jim in supporting the world digital library and supporting preservation and also sometimes serving as go between and getting a collection for library of congress. and, therefore, making curator sometime angry and making donors angry. but i think the destination of every major collection in this country has to be in an institution such as library of
congress, because it guards our national heritage. so it should not come to you as surprise when we say largest library in the world. library of congress is also magnificent for one other thing. two-thirds is books, is content is international. and it's natural because two-thirds of -- there are 16 languages were collected by thomas jefferson in his small library. so from our founder of thomas jefferson on, library of congress i show how it's not parochial, how it's not nationalist. because the world is main garden in order to cultivate. and last point i want to mention, jim also has to satisfy congress, naturally, and maybe i'm breaking confidence -- if i am, jim not tell me, i discovered it -- there are rooms congressmen can meet, contemplate, read, be private.
that's wonderful service to congress. and others is opening congress, library of congress to all the children and school children and others. jim also is not parochial. i have discussion with somebody who says he was parochial. he is not parochial. he also taught congress -- not congress, library of congress has to also play the role of diplomatic affinity building neighborhoods diplomatically. in russia they did it, and more than that, you don't know maybe, but he also went to iran when we were trying how to build relations with iran. he went to visit national library. of course, federal government would not pay the flight of librarian of congress for on behalf of united states to go to iran. i am glad that mr. carnegie from heavens -- [laughter] said we'll take care of
librarian of congress' trip because andrew carnegie was dedicated to international peace. jim, therefore, i mentioned his multiple tasks and has done all of them well. there are critics, actually. any major organization loves critics. but one thing we should not forget, the mission of library of congress has been kept afloat to serve the nation and the world, to build bridges of understanding, to treat all cultures as important, not as minor, major. and then also to save those cultures. one of the last acts of jim billington was to help repatriate afghan memory to afghanistan. well, now if you say that, what does it mean? the country has been destroyed, and the library of congress has their heritage. so, jim and john who's here,
sent eight hard drives to eight afghan universities so to have their culture intact. in 1960s, '70, a previous librarian of congress also did something wonderful, because no one who writes history of pakistan/india can do it without coming to library of congress. you know why? when america was selling grain to india and pakistan, we could only be paid in low prices and in rupees. and rupees could not be spent outside of those countries. so jim for fist time in one -- first time, we should buy all their periodicals, so all the periodicals of india and pakistan now are guests of library of congress, ready to be serving the nations. so, jim, scholar, historian,
intellectual, bear national i'm sorry -- internationalist, but thames curious in term -- at the same time curious of culture. what a symbol it is to be lover of the book and try to see how you can disseminate through latest technologies. sure, some of it has been slow, the critics say. but see how much has been accomplished. and it will be accomplished more, because jim has laid great foundations of this institution. so thank you for all your help at the new york public library, jim. thank you help for nebraska, germans have now published their publications. [laughter] thank you for afghanistan, thank you for russia, thank you for educating congress about russia. thanks for being a good teacher, good friend but always modest and always eloquent. thank you very much. [applause]
>> so maybe the only distinction that can top dozens of honorary doctorates is what it sounds like, vartan, you've just nominated jim for, and that's saint hood. [laughter] i think technically st. patrick's sainthood is based on on having saved knowledge for western civilization, so you've just -- >> no, don't say that, because some saints have become saints by destroying things. jim is a builder, not destroyer. >> all right. [laughter] a creative and productive sainthood then only. from jim billington to the other jim in my life, jim collins, senior associate and diplomat in residence at the carnegie endowment for international peace. the other carnegie upon which andrew looks down from the heavens. he served as u.s. ambassador to the russian federation until 2001, before that appointment he wasword at large and -- ambassador at large for the
newly-independent states, and he served as deputy chief of mission and char jay da fair in mouse coe from -- moscow. ambassador matlock is with us, we're very happy, and a few important things happened that summer of 99 is when jim -- 1991 when jim was in the position. in addition to his three diplomatic postings in moscow, he was consulate general and the department of state in the white house and washington. he's been active on the boards of nonprofit organizations concerned with u.s. foreign policy, and he's been with the carnegie endowment since 2007. he also chairs the u.s. side of the dartmouth dialogue which is a 55-year-old u.s./soviet and now u.s./russian second track
citizens diplomacy effort. and he's been a tremendous voice of reason on russia and u.s. foreign policy generally, particularly in our now-troubled times. and i would add that he has taught me everything that i know about russia, except i have a feeling that he's about to turn around and say jim billington has taught him everything he knows. i'll leave it at that. jim, the floor is yours. >> thank you, matt. i think it's now 58 years ago that i went in to harvard hall at harvard university for the first course i ever took in russian history. and it was a rather young assistant professor who taught that course by the name of jim billington. and i have to say i think for both of us all of that kind of got out of hand over time. [laughter] both of our careers in one way or another ended up being
associated with what has happened to the part of the world that we can call eurasia or russia or soviet on union, whatever you want to call it. it was this part of the world that was, in a sense, the defining part of the world in many ways for the way americans for the last half of the 20th century sort of approached our world responsibilities and the way we looked at the world. and so my introduction at that time from jim billington was about as good as you could get. and it served me well through a career. but i wanted to talk a little bit about jim as librarian and policy developer, maker, implementer ask guyed. and guide.
a lot's been said about the library here, but i would simply make a couple of points as someone who had a diplomatic career about the library. i think everywhere i went somebody had a ministry of culture. americans don't have a ministry of culture. but in a peculiar way, the library embodies the idea of a ministry of culture without being that. in my view, the library is in be a sense the repository for the expression of the american people about what they've been, what they are, what they want to be and how they see their place in the world. and it's, i think, particularly important as well that unlike other countries, the library doesn't belong to the executive branch or the president. it belongs to the congress, to what all of our founders meant to be really the people's place.
and in a sense, i would simply say that in that regard the library and the librarian are an expression of america at what it tries to be, at what it has been and what it hopes the world will see us as representing. now, that's a big job, ask is i don't think anyone -- and i don't think anyone has done it better than jim billington. i suppose since both of us started a long time ago on this sort of preoccupation with russian language and russia and its history and culture and so forth, it was fortuitous that jim in some sense came to the job of being the head of the library of congress and having this role at a time when sudden ly all that we thought
about the soviet union, that part of the world, about its ideology, about how it was the other was suddenly in upheaval. and there were no certainties anymore. so, jim, you came to the library, as i understand it, at sort of the height of perestroika. when mr. gorbachev was beginning to question the whole basis for the soviet system. and uncertainties were far greater than certainties. now, in that kind of a context, i am here to tell you that i don't look to political scientists, and i don't look to economists for what you think about and where's the wisdom about what's going to happen. you look to historians. and i think in that sense our country was extremely fortunate that jim, as librarian of congress, was a historian,
probably our best recognized historian of russia and its region, and that he was in a position to have a degree of influence with a lot of people who mattered in the way this country approached and responded to the changes that were coming and were taking place in the russian federation. now, i think there was a theme to the way jim approached his, i guess, development of how the americans from his point of view should begin to deal with this strange thing that was opening up. and it was based in much of jim's historic study in the work of two mentors he worked with; isaiah berlin and dmitri
linkacvov. it was a fundamentally binding belief that if you gave the russian people and the people of the former soviet union access to what was. >> terse and what was rich and what was very different from what they had experienced over the three-quarters of a century that the communists had put them in a straight jacket -- straitjacket, that we could have faith over time that they would come to a reasonable and sensible and culturally-relevant approach to diseasing their future. deciding their future. and one that would make them partners with whom we could certainly coexist and live at peace. he never thought it was going to be easy, but i think that was for the guiding idea. and so i wanted simply to mention four things that he did, in my view, not by any means definitively the list, but four things that he did in his time when i worked with him on this
sort of unique challenge of what do you do with a country that has isolated itself for three-quarters of a century and suddenly thousands the door open? -- throws the door open? and how we should best define and approach to making the relations with that people work. i think the first thing i would single out is that jim did have his bosses in the congress, but in many ways i think his bosses understood that they had a guide. jane mentioned that he gave her an education on a codell. a codel is a congressional delegation, if you don't know what that is, that was traveling to russia. well, he led i don't know how many, certainly a dozen or more, over a period of several years.
and fundamentally, what was important about that from the standpoint of a diplomat who was on the other end was that those congressional delegations and the people who had worked with jim came to the soviet union first and then the russian federation reasonably well prepared to have an open mind, to have some background and some sense for what it was they were encountering, and most importantly i think, where he could do it he imparted the idea to them that you need to listen. it's not just articulating or setting out a set of points. it's also listening to what the other side has to say. and he helped those codells -- codels and the members of it understand also what they were hearing. so, jim, i mean, i think the role you played in helping to
give the members of congress a sense for what they were dealing with in this rapidly changing world of upheaval and particularly in the russian case was immensely important. the second thing jim did was, in a sense, to the make a major contribution -- to make a major contribution. and this almost in his library hat, but in the broadest expansion of the term. to taking institutions, the libraries of the russian federation, which had been straitjacketed for three-quarters of a century in the most sort of arcane of access controls and so forth, where information was essentially parceled out by rank. but libraries were not designed
for people to go in and read or to explore. they were designed to provide the people who needed to know something with that information. and it was a little suspicious if you went and explored, i think. jim brought to friends in russia and one in particular, i think, who became a partner in finding ways to open up russia's libraries. he pushed people like the american military to send books from libraries that were closing in europe. ..
we had built a diplomatic representation in russia designed to fight the cold war which more or less meant you lived in a vault and there was suspicion about having anything to do with someone on the outside so we had to find a way to engage the russian people at a broad-based and so i cooked up an idea with jim's support and encouragement of something called the american corner and again it was libraries and the openings to the libraries and through people he knew that made it possible because what we did say we would give you a computer link, printer and collection which jim billington was responsible for collecting. if you would give us a room and make it open to anyone without a
pass without any qualifications. we had some 20 of those and by the time the program was finally shut down by mr. putin, there was something like over 40 but the reality is that it was a real opportunity for most russians out in the provinces in the country to come into contact with some kind of official american presence. we used to have lines waiting to get at those computers. so it was an important that you need to give russians and the citizens of the former soviet
space. the opportunity to see alternatives, that it wasn't all simply the way they were told it has to be had to be for most of their adult lives. and the final program he developed, and this is his alone and it cost cooked up initially at my dining room table during a the two in august of 1981 but it took a little while to get it going. but in 1999, jim billington managed to convince the congress and in particular the senator stevens that it would be a good idea to have a lot of russians come to the even if for a short time to see how we do things. to understand how they live their lives and what they do day-to-day and how we deal with our issues and so that gave
birth to what has become the open world program. that program hasn't brought about 24,000 individuals from the former soviet union and eastern europe. they come from every province of almost every country in the former soviet union. the idea has remained the same since the inception of the program and it is the one that i think embodied the ideas that jim had for this program. you bring people that haven't been here before. it doesn't matter whether the speaking coach or not. give them a couple days in washington to understand what our bureaucracy thinks they should and then you send them out to some town or city in the united states to live with families or among families to eat how we really do things at the local level, how we do the things they have to do.
that program has been extremely successful and i can tell you it is unique, and today is the biggest crook in the united states government has in that part of the world. i simply would say that in a broad sense of the world when it came to america's policy abroad or the development of the relations with a rapidly changing and totally transforming part of the world, james ideas as a library of instruments to develop and conduct and conceptualize different approaches to bring people together and to bring our people and the russian people and ukrainian people and have suffered to understand a bit more about each other.
there was no equal to that in the u.s. government and i say that with a great deal of pride having worked with chin over the years. so you have a legacy that goes well beyond the buck. it is sustained by the buck and it is also sustained by a growing generation of people across a wide range of the world who had their first encounters in the united states because of what you've done so thank you very much. [applause] last and certainly not least i have the privilege of introducing my predecessor at the institute for wilson center he is the director of the centers urban policy laboratory and served for nearly a quarter-century as the director
of for canon institute while also coordinating on the comparative urban studies for two decades. he received his masters and phd from science at the university of toronto and his bachelors with highest honors in political science from the university of north carolina at chapel hill. he's added more than a dozen volumes and is the author of six monographs studying urban issues, russia and other related topics including most recently washington's biography, and in that connection i just have to relate that very recently when i had the opportunity on the guidance, advice and with his introduction to take a high-level russian donation for the tour of the other washington of used -- you street and then in the civil war museum which blew their minds by the way.
the theater then of course i realized the distinguished group of russians who really thought they understood washington from that moment understood that you always have something new to learn and in that spirit, i get the floor to talk about jim billington. >> it is a pleasure to be up here sharing the podium with a director after institute. very nice. >> i've been asked to speak about the scholarship and i will do so for about ten minutes. if you've ever tried to pick up any of the books written you will understand how difficult it is and it's good for your health particularly two books come the icon and the acts and fire in the arms of men. monumental books in every way including in the past.
so i decided that if i wanted to try to do is offer a few observations about how this working intellectual history has in fact shaped the intellectual discourse of our times. part of that has to do with scholarships and the books themselves and part of it has to do with as you just heard how jim has translated into fraud into action through the building of institutions which actually carried out further into the future. and as jane harmon said in the opening remarks, we are in an institution that it's actually impossible to understand what the institution would be if we don't take into account jim billington's remarkable role, which really began with the
remarkable scholarship and the way that he thinks about the world. now, i want to go back to a comment made but i want to suggest it's never just a footnote in any gathering and i think we have evidence of that. but he spoke very eloquently about the power of the book and what he's talking about is the power of thought and it's the power of thought that intellectual historians like jim really explore. and it's the question of what makes people's minds work that underscored the importance of the interpretive history of
russia and the acts. this is a book that has defined how we think about russia and its widely regarded as one of the landmarks in russian history but writing by anyone on russia. i've never told this story, but jim came to speak at the university of north carolina when i was an undergraduate couple of years after the icon of the accident. and we have to read -- it is the heart nubuck in the field coming and we started out by reading that book which i am not sure if software university i grasped but jim came to lecture and that was the night that i decided i really wanted to understand russia. so when we talk a lot about how
people influence other people, but it often is through private moments like that that world has changed one decision at a time. jim's scholarship i think really begins to capture the importance of the one thought at a time transforming the world. it's an approach that begins with history and jim like george kennan understood we can't speak about contemporary russian affairs with any wisdom or intelligence unless we carry within extensive knowledge of the russian past. it's not that we know how to look something up with a search
engine. but there's nothing to begin to try to think about the russian presence. and this perspective is what led jim and george kennan to establish the institute within the wilson center after jim's arrival here in washington. it's another example of how fox translated through institutions takes on a life that carries me on all of us. jim also became a model for many i'm sure by continuing his scholarship even as he assumed larger and larger responsibilities. it's a panel full of people to remind us of the important link beyond the scholarship and post
because these are more than one tied together. think about what an institution should be and what the strategy is for the institution. it comes down to how we think about the world and how we can translate our thoughts about the world into action. so that's not only these big hefty profound books but a human being that is translating the knowledge and the books through his visionary perspective to the institutions and concrete actions. as he began to look at the core of the scholarship you begin to see jim is writing about the world and the habits of a world in which the culture and religious that is a moral thought for the families shape of human beings live their lives
and the moral thought and shape and healthy societies in history develop. it fired in the minds of men makes it very clear that ideas shape the world. for jim to the concept of liberty is the essential fuel for driving the human action. it may be actually one of the reasons why he has a post library in into democratic institutions way that he has. jim sees the french revolution is having shaped the world profoundly through the revolutionary slogan which is more than a slogan allocated. and as those ideas shape, they shape the world not the least
baby shaped russia. so, to comprehend contemporary russia means you can't just take a single dimension come and they actually notated the importance of not relying on a single entry point for the have to understand how the various factors are interwoven through the lenses of historical, cultural and ideological understandings of what russia can be and what russia is and strives to be. and at the center of the quest for what it means to be in russia in search of itself stands the russian orthodox thought and belief and that set of beliefs provides the moral underpinning to the russian thought and action.
underpinning that is different from the anglo-saxon sensibilities. russia often offends the mind. it doesn't mean rush doesn't have a moral base or compass it means the calibration depends on different pleadings altogether and that's an idea that runs through russia and also explains his remarkable friendship with dmitri is a profoundly moral figure particularly as russia searched for it so following the collapse of the soviet union and
jim understand the power. this perspective on russia he brought with him when he came to princeton and washington. during the 20th century including his own professor these are thinkers that devoted their lives to try to understand russia through the prism of the society's historical philosophical foundations. not surprisingly come he studied with berlin just as they were developing the context with liberty which he argued a single political concepts such as liberty could have a plurality of meanings often contradicting
one another and i look at the date of when berlin's seminal work came out. it's the idea about the meaning of liberty but also has a powerful important idea about the importance of contradictions and consciousness. this is especially true when we approach russia. they assume that they are both true. [laughter] and the times of uncertainty we have to turn to historians to help us appreciate why it is that two contradictory phenomena can be part of the whole and this is the role historians and especially intellectual and cultural historians like jim
billington, in. now, why does this matter at all? if we stop to consider the present day events i think that we can begin to understand how much the prospective perspective can inform a western world struggling to understand putin, his goals and his relationships with the american people. he and his work should force us to step back and think about and there are scores of people who are ambitious and want the opportunity to do what george kennan dead to write a long diplomatic table that shapes the parameters for half a century. [laughter] >> what they failed to appreciate is berlin and billington didn't just sit down and write a cable or article or
book. they were able to write the way they were written because they already devoted a portion of their soul for engaging with russia. this engagement is the wellspring of the insight, the knowledge and the wisdom. jim captures this as well as anyone in the opening of the book about his experiences being in moscow in 91. russia transformed right through the hope. this appeared while events were unfolding shortly after i announced after. it was euphoria about the future and washington if not in moscow and what's important to understand is that jim was enjoying very nice dinners at the dinner table but he was also getting out in the city and that
becomes reflected. he reflexive. he left the bunker and went out through the revolutionary moment and that's why in the knowledge of coming together in that moment he was able to begin his book. it ended with a spontaneous heroism of a relatively small band of russians at the heart of the empire in moscow. these events provided an adrenaline shot of hope and self-confidence to the russian people. but if predictably gave way to the discontent for the events started the process of innovation, change and society that was bound to continue in the traditions fought with peril. democracy was an endangered species even at birth. he then continues and again remember he's writing this in
1991 or 1992. the post-communist russia communist russian commitment to democracy and the economy was not accompanied by any real historical experience in russia or exposure to functioning for the institutions. the preparation for the as path -- new path still lie ahead. he then adds to understand the intensity of the change that to the august days brought to russia, must remember the history where it is almost unrelieved record of our credit rules. now what's important is jim isn't saying that there is no hope, because he writes about the events of august of 91 as a breakthrough moment for the russian people. but that hope was tempered by his appreciation of everything that led up to those and it's
the understanding of the enormity of the transformation that lies ahead. and i think the legacy of the scholarship on russia for anyone concerned about the russian society and culture is to demonstrate through his own writings the appreciation is possible. [applause] thank you so much. i cannot thank the panel enough for providing the depth and the rhetoric and of course jim's insight in his very own words from such a wide range of the parts of human life that your work has touched. we are asked time that i know a lot of you gathered to the
testament of the incredible esteem that he's held but he's held in the town and country and globally. you might have thought people have mentioned already to me but i would suggest is in a relatively concise way. if we have microphones, yes we do, available to anyone who will raise their hand now and let me know and we will take a few minutes to let you add your comments and thoughts to those of the panel. yes. >> i would like to add just a word about doctor billington's attributes as a great teacher because he was a great pedagogue and a scholar and conductor of seminars had he never come to washington and done all the great things he did here i was fortunate enough to be one of his graduates named up the road in princeton and what's i took
away from that seminar is the concept that the soviet union wasn't going to be around forever and i've are member vividly the discussion of his assertion that the russian church was church was a more fundamental watershed moment for russia than the bolshevik revolution. all the students regarded up with some incredulity that i begin of course and my first go through of the icon and the acts i have been persuaded about when i entered into the state department where i encountered this uniform view that was a coma nation of russian history and forever since the cold war was permanent i at least had the notion that it wouldn't be the case and in my assignments in moscow i came to the understanding of god and i certainly didn't expect to be around when it had its culmination at the end of the soviet union but when its data, and i was there i certainly
cannot claim to have been psychologically prepared. but intellectually, i was entirely comfortable and that was entirely because the seminar that i had earlier with a great teacher. >> thank you. [applause] >> in 1996 i participated. she brought me to your office in the library and i ask you what language and she said it doesn't matter. anybody that is in this room because this gave me a lot of possibilities. the countries for both russia and america. thank you very much.
i wanted to mention one that wasn't mentioned by the panel. >> introduce yourself, please. >> i'm a friend of the wilson center and the billington's. [laughter] >> i can't see anyone, the lights. >> that is public law 14 -- 113 an act of congress signed by the president which designates him as the library of congress americus. only the second person of the third person in the history of the country to be afforded the honor. then they can agree on the extraordinary service of doctor