tv Panel on Former Librarian of Congress James Billington CSPAN November 25, 2018 12:56pm-2:26pm EST
type the author's name in the search bar at the top of the page. >> long-time former librarian of congress passed away this week, among other accomplishments he was along with first lady laura bush the cofounder of the national book festival in 2001. in 2016 the wilson center held retrospective on his career, this is about an hour and a half [inaudible conversations] >> thank you so much for coming. [inaudible conversations] >> good afternoon.
please take your seats. my understanding is we are live on c-span so behave yourselves. [laughter] >> welcome to valentine's day a bit early, i'm jane herman, president and ceo of the wilson 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 in charge. [applause] >> we have no 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
kremlin, priceless. jim, your command of russia, history and 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] >> 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 -- in the conversation to follow, former u.s. ambassador to russia, jim collins, gregorian, president, for sure, forever president of the carnegie and they are joining us to celebrate your
service. we are also lucky to be joined by ambassador to the united states, ambassador andrés ruson, acting librarian of congress and library director of outreach and delegate to our board, grace mckennon, family has done so much to shape the institution and diana davis spencer who has been such a friend to our work. gatherings like this remind me of the friends we have, including hundreds in russia and ukraine even now we put the best scholars and the most 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 roads scholarships. you can applaud for that. [applause] >> throw out your service here at the world leadership center and library of congress you have shown exceptional service to the ideal woodrow wilson and we all share knowledge in the public service. it's an honor to celebrate with you -- to celebrate that today with many many extraordinary individuals including your own family right in the front row, marjorie, susan and others that were not able to join us here. .. ..
and back to the wilson center. in case some of you have never seen him before, he is hiding under a board and is the director of the kennan institute and we are very proud he is here and he will say a few words and i obviously have to recognize blair ruble who will be introduced who was the long-standing director of the kennan institute and is now our vice president from program. so please become home matt row january can i. >> thank you. i seem to recall there was a line in the job director for directoff of the kennan institute which said up to 25% of your time travel. russia and ukraine are 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 quality and in particular the quality of the people right here on the podium are testament to this man, jim billing send. -- billington. this is an incredible gathering and i'm enormously privileged and intimidate ted be sitting in the middle. so if i slide under the table, you'll know why. one priority i had when i joined the kennan institute was to meet with dr. billenton. i learn about the founding of the institute, the personalities, unique characters, all who were involved. the war stories about its early days and the wilson center.
but the main thing i took away was his description of the urgent need and the complexion challenge of creating such a center for advanced russian studies in the nation's capitol at thing high of the cold war. meant a great deal to hear first hand from a cofounder of then kennan institute is was designed to foster the development of general understanding but then-soviet russia and the depth 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. i did some research recently while far away from washington, dc. during a fellowship at nato and give 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, cofounded the kennan institute
which jim billing g.o.p. with fred star and wrote in his 14946 telegram the united states government should see that our public is educated to the realities of the russian situation. he cautioned there's nothing as dangerous or as terrifying as the unknown. and so he called for the study of russia with courage, detach. and october different. these are the values upon which dr. billington, ambassador kennan and dr. star founded the kennan institute at the will son center and i like to believe they're the values we uphold to this day. think many in this room are aware of the challenge of this moment. the precipitous decline in our government odd support foothill tight of sharp and throttling paucity of experts so i think it's especially timely for us to gather to celebrate a man who, as the panel's title suggests, made a career of advancing not only knowledge but knowledge and public service.
i know that we at the kennan institute bear that legacy and that mission as our guiding star. i want to thank jim for taking the time to meet with newly mint kennan director, to show him what is possible, eventually, with one's career. if one has the insight and the courage that jim billington brought to bear. i want to thank the billington family, his wife, marjorie, daughters susan and son thomas, i want to thank grace kennan for joining and is want to thank, of course, this distinguished panel which i 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 issmall
serageldin. the found of the bibliotheca alexdrina. he chairs the port of direct years in lie brother's afated. >> and advises the eye inschapp prime minister on matters of culture, science and museums and held many important international positions including vice president of the world bank. he is a chair and member of many advisory committees for academic research and scientific international institutions and involved in many important international organizations, has published over 100 books and mon graphs and over 500 papers on a variety of topics. what is not mentioned in at the biois that the library was first established entirely of works written by mr. -- [laughing] >> he owes hosted a cultural premier on television in egypt and developed a scientific series. and hi bachelor of engineering
is from cairo university and hi masters and ph.d from harvard university and he has received 34 hop area doctorates, which i understand also come poleses the wall paper now of the library. so -- >> thank you. >> thank you, matthew. ladies and gentlemen, i'm delighted to be with you today to honor an amazing individual. james 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. how do you take the measure of a man? by the accomplishments? but also by the love he has generated among family, friends and colleagues. i believe i qualify as a friend and that i could speak volumes about my love for jim i would leak to focus my remarks on jim billington the librarian of congress and his legacy. moe precisely will speak of one aspect of the legacy, which is
she international aspect and two projects he initiated and i have been involved. i want to note that he is undoubtedly a towering intellect, a great teacher and a superb builder of institutions from teaching history of harvard and princeton, win on to head the full bright program, the woodrow wilson international center and the library of congress and as a scholar, he and i used to discuss many things from the center's mission to the lincoln's gettysburg address, and the special music we find in it. i was impressed he was able to recall from memory another ismall. the figure, and his books including fire in the heards of man, and others, as well as his russian culture programs were an inspiration, but i leave others to speak on these facet's his enormously productive career. a few things he did and at a great impact on me, starting
from before i became the librarian of alexdrina in 2005. i'm a life-long byeow file and used to get nightmare at the idea of so many becomes published on acidic paper, falling into dust around the world and it was jim billington who launched a mass deacidiccation program which expand the life span of 4 million volumes and 12 million manuscript sheets and provide new collection storage facilities and opened that in 2002 and 4 million items are now available there during his tenure at the library of congress, jim billington double the size of the library's traditional analog collections and 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. he did all he did while presiding over a 30% reduction
in staff. but jim was truly a fundraiser extraordinaire, recall his creation of the madison council, the cultural facility for motion pictures as well as the american music legacy program. all that is but a small part of his enormous legacy. more than a skilled administrator, jim billington was a true visionary. he transformed the library of congress from the analog to the digital age, from the primary library in the u.s.a. to the primary library in the world. not just in terms of number of acquisitions where me a the british library has a slight edge but the leadership in content and quality of librarianship. he kept it at the forth 2014 as the standard setter for the world, not only by sharing know how with others but also be designing new standards for the digital age. so, he ensured that the library of congress, for example, produced the resource
description and access to ida in 2010, in standard for the digital age the we are all adopting, and starting in 2011 the design of big frame has started, a data model for description which will become the new standard for the whole world in the next year or two. jim billington cooked with the revolution differently than most people. he saw for the need to go beyond putting early 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 that it was not just but the quantity of material that can be digitized and put out on the web for the search engines of the world led by goggle to find snip.s here and there of material. rather, this was going to happen anyway. 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 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 know phone. 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 know-philes who were emnaarorred the gadgets gadgets gadgets andz affect. the understand it opened up avenues for new kind of communication about our cultural, heritage, and our common humanity. jim billington understand that putting a person in a roomful of unorganized books would be useless in promoting understand, the person may suddenly fall upon an interesting picture or
get enamoredded by the tightful to the book but not the vocation of the librarian or the as separation of an intellectual. select different, creation and presentation were needed. as early also 1990, jim was the first to understand that the simple digitization of a lot of material and put it on the internet would sim my be the equivalent of bringing a roomful of diorganized books to the person's hands delivered through their computers. but bringing the collection, to read it interlinkedlinked to eah person on the internet, that we be something different. digital contraction best this selection, preservation, maintenance, collection and archive offering if the digital assets. establishes knowledges maintaineds and add value to the repository of digital data for present and future use. a work that is accomplishings by typists, librarians, scientist, historians and scholars. but if the design of the links and explanations provided by the creators was also targeted to an
audience of that covers the cape of 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 memory program launched in 1990 was not only a pioneering program. it was enormous. today as put online and creative faction more than 20 million articles from the collection of the lie area and other research institutions. and jim also championed the library's many other internet services. there is the congressional database, online card catalogue, web site for children' and families called america's library and all of that is really used. in 2013 i noticessed the library had recorded 84 million visits
and 590 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 now that's program. and from that context i was fascinated by the man. the intellectual and the historian. and the wisdom he possessed. ladies and gentlemen, we are today more than ever overwhelmed by the amount of data but the data when organized becomes information and information, when explained, becomes knowledge. but humanity needs more than knowledge. we need wisdom. and wisdom is a different quality and it is not an attribute of youth. the youngening be intelligent, brilliant, geniuses but would not attribute wisdom to them. we may say that young man is wise beyond his years. why? because the quality comes from experience and reflex, the intellected with the lessons of a life well lived with knowledge
is acquired as age and jim billington brought wisdom to tasks he chose to pursue. now, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to turn to two programs i had the privilege 0 working closely with jim on children initiation and continuation to this day. the world digital library and the international summit of the book. the world digital library is an ambitious program launched by jim, sported by unesco, worked brought together 180 libraries from 81 countries. woke tuesdaying on quality, not quantity and brought together curated merle from all ol' the world, maps, pictures, books, 112 languages, presented the creative material in seven languages and jim ensured that the library of congress provide the sectat for the takes and the superb team from the -- able leadership of john bennett who is here today, has indeed set a very high standard for the cure
racing and presentation of the selected materials in a manner worthy of presenting the cultures of the world in all their richness and diversity. quality a smile library. but the entire library of congress started with 6,500 becomes from the jefferson collect. today the standard 14,000 items and 600,000 images. nothing by comparison to what the internet provides it by succeed inside attracting 4 million visitors a year and is reference by an amazing 3.3 million links from the internet into the wtl. thus is quality recorded. and recognized. now, vision areas see the need for thing that others ignore. jim billington did that in international summit of the book. he believed the world should annually celebrate the book. cultural development and curl to all continuity out there the
cowling tries of the world. the called unesco to sport the summit and he and congressman deserve immense credit for that. was launched at the library of congress in december of 2012 and i had the privilege of delivering the opening keynote address. i have recorded the address as the library -- and i i'm happy to give you a copy of this dvd as a keepsake with a text copy inside as well and i'm happy to give it to you as a souvenir of your decision to invite know speak at that memorable event. since that time we took the summit to singapore, paris and alexandra and i participated in each event and next year is going ireland as your initial. ladies and gentlemen, as i said i have been privileged to work closely with jim billing g.o.p. his colleagues at the library of congress on these programs. the worlds diggality library
launched in 2009 and the international ceremony of the book launched in 201. i predded at the null meet offering book events in november 2015. just after jim had retired on september 30th. it is stunning that the participant in both events asked me to convey a special appreciation for jim billington on heir 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 say september builded on november 6, 2015 having lender of the retirement of james billington, wish no formally record our esteem for his visionary and ex-september player leadership and our
profound appreciation of this countless contributions. with our best wishes for a happy and serene retirement knowing you luhr going lives on and grows from strength to strength. now, 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 same. it says, we the librarians intellectuals and book lovers assembled in the alessandra egypt on november 6, 2015, 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 esteemed for and appreciation of the initiative and vision of james billington,. libraryn of congress and
initiator of the international putt of the book. with the untold millions of book lovers in the world, for the book was, is and remains the primary form of cultural communication, transmission of knowledge across space and time. ladies and gentlemen, we salute jim billing ton not only the librarian of congress but also as the librarian for the world. builder of great institutions, visionary leader of a legendary institution, great library made greater, a world enriched by the vision yourself have advanced, the dreams you believed in the people you nurtured, the culture that you cared for so men. jim, we thank you for all you have done, but above all we thank you for being the wonderful person that you are. [applause]
>> thank you. that was truly moving and i would say worthy perhaps of a world library in its scope and of digitization for posterity. i aim particularly glad we have cameras here. next my previous to produce vartan gregorian, as james said, the one and only. the 12th president of the carnegie corporation of new york, grant-making institution funded by andrew carnegie. he served nine years as president of brown university and before that, from 1981 to 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 and graduate with honors. a ph.d in hit from stanford in 1964. in 1972 he joined the university of pennsylvania, where he was appointed professor of history and professor of south asian history. a founding dean of the faculty of arts and sciences at the university of pennsylvania, and alerter became its 23rd 23rd provost. the author of a great many books, including the road to home, my life and times, a money sake, not a monolith and the emergence of modern afghanistan, 1880 to 1946. one might argue it's still emerging which is being now
reissued -- reissued in 2013 with a new introduction, received a great many fellowships and awards. in addition to -- and i can see we have a competition brewing -- 70 honorary degrees but here's the great thing. when you're aft this level you just call all your friends and give each other degrees. [laughter] >> in 1998, president clinton -- that's not how i works -- president clinton awarded him the national humanities medal and 2004 president bush awarded him the medal of freedom. in 2009 fine he was eye opinioned to at the white house fellowships commission and serves on 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. i gave my speech so i -- while he was
talking and put something notes to be able to be coherent or say something meaningful because ismaller verse comprehensive and very precise. so i'm going to try to see what i can do to deserve as a foot moët to ishmael. let me mention one thing. nation has several great libraries. library of congress is the best in our nation and the world. the world's largest library, but also expanding library, libraries are not depositories, putsing things in a hole and not taken care of. i visited indian libraries and i told this to jim and i went to calcutta, met a librarian and said, what are we doing?
coming library of congress example. two volumes of each book published in india going no reserve. that do you do? we send to base. little what happens after afterwards in not my obligation. so having book, having collection, carries historical obligation, and duties. how to preserve it. because librarians are custodians but not only the book but our heritage. the memory of mankind. of all that's accomplishments, all his failures, all his aspirations. hence we need libraries in order not to have self-inflicted alzheimer's disease as a nation. good libraries are there to remind us always. second, as president of the new york public library, i have to tell you that's where i came 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 wonderful academic term -- to lure 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 came to 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 library of congress. now, i have to confess that after i became president of the new york public library issue realized two things about my position. many librarians dislike the fact that nation's top positions go to nonlibrarians.
that's a fact. rightly so. we spend our lives in the library profession and harvard library, new york public library, they all go to nonlow br'erans and most to historians. and i propose the new york public lie brayians that in order to repair the damage i'll be happy to get a master of library sciences, and the uniformly denounces my move. but i'll say this because it's natural, the tension, because -- i also understand why historians are chosen for this position, because one is to a cultural perspective, one is to go beyond specialization, in to the totality of actual tour and one little also you're not hiding a specialist, you're hiring an intellectual. because library by it'ser demand requires all this qualifications. that's why serageldin, and he
gives equally beautiful speeches at the board meetings. know that, jim. and but at the same time, jim is all those three. historian, library of the book, intellectual, care put all culturals and also, i was very impressed and froggen that he told me one of the most unexploited, unexploder, unused, collections is the library of congress are german publications, 1830s, 40s, 50s, 60s,from nebraska, from iowa, wherever german immigrants came. and i was -- i started a movement, 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. and the other thing jim helped me when i was president of the new york public library to go acid-free. on my first acts of barbara goldsmith the writers, we brought hundred write heed to vouch they will not any lou any publication to be published on acid paper. and that did a tremendous thing. i owe thanks to jim because i consulted him at the time. jim also appreciates historical neavess. not just the bicentennial of this great institution, the library of congress, but the fact also -- stabbed in the middle of civil war, established public universities, united
states. let's one of the forgetting acts of lincoln, president lincoln in the middle of civil war, president lincoln started act which created public universities. they also established the commission in the middle of civil or two study the merits of metric measures. but they were interested in nations future and that is what they were doing. they're building a future. so, jim helped us together with the exhibition on the act and we published entire lincoln speeches and library of america, and we sent to every congressman, every governor, lieutenant governor, president, vice president of united states,
first republican president speeches. only three of them returned. because it situation more than $50. ... >> most eloquent articulations of the book. it was mentioned here if you have not read it, the meaning of the library, a cultural history by alice crawford, and there is a paragraph by jim. the books are our guardians of memory, 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. it's beautiful. i also believe that books are our only companions for life, though some people may choose it into 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 you. have you read it? no. [laughter] so it doesn't matter, you're in store thage business. -- storage business. [laughter] you're taken from this storage, to many storage, to another storage. that's not what progress is. progress to be able to get it. i was reminded also 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 assumed on its own, 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 -- [inaudible] leviathan, very organization that is with federal government. it's remarkable. i could not work for bureaucracy. but bureaucracies 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 nance, incompetence and indifference. and that's one of the things all our institutions have to confront that. librarians, heads of libraries, heads of all institutions. otherwise our cultural institutions will atrophy, and the system becomes more important than the -- the medium becomes more important than the message it conveys. so today we face -- and this is my -- [inaudible] 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 pharaoh anymore. you are already pharaoh. 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 pharaohs fought to build, preserve, you you have at your fingertips to receive, to read, to think. don't blame for lack of teachers, 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 knowledge in information, and what wisdom in knowledge -- and what is wisdom in knowledge. that's what we did, distillation of everything into wisdom and knowledge. library of congress is also international in nature, and that's why ismail has worked with, that's why it was with great pride to have dealt with
jim in supporting the world digital library, in supporting preservation and also sometimes serving as go-between and getting a collection or two for library of congress. and, therefore, making curators sometimes 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 of its books, its content is international. and it's natural because two-thirds -- there are 16 languages collected by thomas jefferson in his small library. so from our founder of thomas jefferson on, library of congress has shown 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 did not tell me, i discovered it -- there are rules congressmen can meet, contemplate, read, be private. that's wonderful service to congress. and the others is opening congress, library of congress to all the children and school children and others. jim also is not parochial, because some -- i have discussion with somebody who said he was parochial. he is not parochial. he also taught congress -- not congress, library of congress has to also may the role of diplomatic -- play the role of diplomatic affinity, building neighborhoods diplomatically. in russia, it did it.
and more than that, you tonight know maybe, but -- you don't know maybe, but he also went to iran when we were trying to build relations with iran. he went to visit national library of iran. of course, federal government would not pay the flight of librarian of congress for, on behalf of the united states to go to iran. i am glad that mr. carnegie from heavens -- [laughter] said we'll take care of librarian of congress, because andrew carnegie was dedicated to international peace. jim, therefore, i mentioned has multiple tasks and has done all of them well. there are critics, actually. any major organization will have its 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, if you say that, what does it mean? the country has been destroyed. 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. a previous, in 1960s, '70s, 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
ruin pees -- i rupees, and rupees could not be spent outside of those countries. so for first time in one of the bureaucracies said, my god, 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 is a scholar, historian, intellectual, internationalist but at the same time curious in terms of culture and lover of the book. 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 great institution. so thank you for all your help
to new york public library, jim. thank you for help for nebraska. germans have not published their publications. [laughter] thank you for your help for afghanistan. thank you for your with help russia. thank you for educating congress about russia. thanks for being a good teacher, good friend but 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 sainthood is having saved knowledge for western civilization, so you've just -- >> no, don't say that. some say you become saint by destroying things. [laughter] jim is builder, not destroyer. >> all right. a creative and productive sainthood then only.
from, from jim billington to the other jim in my life, jim collins, senior associate and diplomat in rez tense at the us eurasian program, the other carnegie upon andrew looks down from the heavens. he served as u.s. ambassador to the russian federation from 1997-2001. before that appointment he was ambassador at large and special adviser to the secretary of state for the newly-independent states. and he served as deputy chief of mission and charge jay defair in moscow from 1990-'93. for those of you paying attention, that's between ambassador matlock and ambassador strauss. ambassador matlock is here with us, we're very happy. and a few important things happened that summer of 1991 when jim was in the position of charge. in addition to his three diplomatic postings in moscow,
he held positions in israel, turkey and the department of state and white house in washington. he's been active on the boards of nonprofit organizations, concerned with relations with russia, eastern europe and eurasia, 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 has 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 that i have a feeling he's about to turn around and say that jim billington has taught him everything he knows. [laughter] i'll leave it at that. jim, the floor is yours. >> thank you, matt9. i think it's now 58 years ago that i went into 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 union or soviet union/war saw pact. 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 want to talk a little bit about jim as librarian and policy developer, maker, implementer 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 with 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 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 the, 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, 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, the 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 suddenly 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 is 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 bear min and dmitri -- berlin and dmitri -- [inaudible] it was fundamentally an abiding belief that if you gave the russian people and the people of the former soviet union access to what was diverse 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 straitjacket, that we could have faith over time that they would come to a reasonable and sensible and culturally-relevant approach to 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 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 throws the door open. and how we should best define and approach -- define an 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 codell 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 a 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 to it, he imparted the idea to them that you need to listen. it's not just articulating or sending out a set of points. it's also listen dog what the -- listening to what the other side has to say. and he helped those 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 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 make a major contribution. and this in his, almost in his library hat, but in the broadst expanse of the -- broadest expanse 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, 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. he helped russian libraries understand sort of modern library techniques. he opened up entirely new connections for these kinds of libraries to a world they had never had any encounter with. and he also developed relationships with libraries in the largest sense of the word, things like the film libraries, the emergeing pools of documents and so forth. and he helped those that helped russia preserve its past, to organize and understand its past and to develop in a sense what i would say is the modern approach to libraries for the russian
federation. this was the mace they looked, and -- the place they looked, and they looked to jim billington. and thirdly, when i was ambassador, it was very clear that one of the problems we had as the american government was that we had built a diplomatic representation in russia that was designed to fight the cold war which more or less meant you lived in a vault. and there was some suspicion about having anything to do with someone on the outside. and so i thought we had to find a new way to engage the russian people at ad broader base -- at a broader base. and so i cooked up an idea with jim's support and encouragement of something we called an american corner.
and again, it was libraries and jim's opening to the libraries and through people he knew that made this probable. because what we did was say we will give you a computer link, a computer and a printer and a collection which jim billington was responsible for collecting, of books if you will give us a room and make it open to anyone without a pass and without any qualifications. well, by the time i left we had some 20 of those, and i think by the time the program was finally shut down by mr. putin, there was something over 40. but the reality was it was the first real opportunity for most russians out in the provinces of that huge country to come into contact with some kind of official american presence or to come use the instruments and the collections of something like
the library of congress. because they had the computer. and we used to have lines waiting to get at those computers. so while it was a thing of its time, it was an important opening. but what it represented also was the kind of idea that jim kept pushing, that you need to give russians and give citizens of the former soviet space the opportunity to see alternatives, that it wasn't all simply the way they were told it had to be for most of their adult lives. and the final program he developed, and this really is jim's alone and it got cooked up initially at my dining room table during the coup in august 1991, but it took a little while to get it going. but in 1999 we, jim billington
managed to convince the congress, and in particular senator stevens, that it would be a good idea to have a lot of russians come to the united states even if for a short time to see how we do things, to understand how americans live their daily lives, what they do day-to-day, how we deal with our issues. and so that gave birth to what has become the open world program. that program has now brought about 24,000 individuals from the form former soviet union in east europe. they come from every province of almost every country in the former soviet union. and the idea has remained the same since the inception of the program, and it is consummately the one that i think embodied the ideas that jim had for this program.
that you bring people who have not been here before -- doesn't matter whether they speak english or not -- you give them a couple of 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 and let them live with families or among families to see how we really do things at the local level, how we do the things they have to do. .. . >> i simply would say in the broader sense of the world when it came to america's policy abroad or the development of our relations with a rapidly changing and totally transforming part of the world,
jim's ideas and the use of the library as an instrument 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 so forth 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 in having worked with jim over the years. so jim, you have a legacy that goes well beyond the book. it is sustained by the book but it is also sustained by a growing generation of people across a wide-range of the world who had their first encounter of 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, my boss, vice president for programs at the wilson center. he's director of the center's urban policy laboratory and served for nearly a quarter century as director of the institute while coordinating and programming on comparative urban studies for two decades. he received masters and ph.d in political science from the university of toronto and his bachelor's with highest honors in political science in the university of north carolina in chapel hill, edited more than a dozen volumes and author of six monograms studying urban issues, russia, related topics including washington's street, biography and in that connection i just have to relate that very recently when i had the
opportunity on guidance, advice and with his introduction to take a rather high-level russian delegation for a tour of the other washington, of youth street, washington as city and not a symbol, of course, we took them to bohemian caverns and african-american museums which blew their mind, by the way, i realize that this distinguished group of russians who really thought that they understood washington from that moment understood you always have something now learn and in that spirit, i give blare the floor to talk about jim. >> thank you, matt. it's a pleasure to be up here sharing the podium with the director of the kennan institute, very nice. >> plural. >> i've been asked to speak about jim's scholarship and
introduce about ten minutes, if you've ever tried to pick up any of the books that jim has written -- [laughter] >> you will understand how difficult that is although it's actually very good for your health because his books, particularly two books, the icon and the axe and fire in the minds of men are monumental books in every way including in their half. [laughter] >> i decided what i wanted to do is offer a few observations about how this work in intellectual history has, in fact, shaped the intellectual discourse of our times. now, part of that has to do with scholarship and the books themselves and part of it has to do as you've just heard with how jim has translated thought into action through the building of
institutions which actually carry that thought further into the future. and as james harman said in opening remark, we are in institution that it's actually impossible to understand what this institution would be if we don't take into account jim billington's remarkable world which began with james' scholarship and the way he thinks about the world. now, i -- i wanting to back to a comment but i want to suggest that varton is never just a footnote. [laughter] >> and i think we have evidence of that. but he spoke very eloquently about the power of the book. and what he's really talking
about is the power of thought and it's the power of thought that intellectual historians like jim really explore. and it's that question of what makes people's minds work that underscored the importance, interpretive history of russia of icon and the axe, this is the book that has defined how we think about russia and widely regarded as one of the landmarks in russian history, not just american writing on russia but writing by any one on russia. now, i never have told the story and -- but jim came to speak at the university of north carolina when i was in an undergraduate a couple of years after the iconic axe appeared and we had to read,
the hot-new book in the field and started out by reading that book which i'm not sure as sophomore at the university at the time fully grasped but jim came and lectured and that was the night that i decided i really wanted to understand russia. so when we talk -- we talk a lot about how people influence other people, but it's often through private moments like that that the world has changed one decision at a time. in jim's scholarship i think really begins to capture the importance of that one thought at a time transforming world. it is an approach that begins, of course, with history and jim
like george kennan understood that we can't speak about contemporary cump rain -- russian affairs unless we carry within us extensive knowledge of the russian past, not that we know facts, now that we know how to look something up with a search engine but there is knowledge within us about russia that allows us to begin to try to think about the russian presence. and this perspective as matt has reminded us is what led jim and george and fred to establish the kennan institute shortly after jim's arrival here in washington. it's another example of how thought translated through institutions takes on a life that carries beyond all of us.
jim also became a model for many of us in the world by continuing scholarship even if he assumed larger responsibilities, actually this is a panel full of people who can remind us of the important link between scholarship and posts because these are in more ways than one tied together and thinking about what institution should be, what strategy is for an institution. no matter how we think about the world and how we can translate our thoughts about the world into action, so jim was not only a scholar writing these hefty profound books but he was a human being who is translating the knowledge in those books through his visionary perspective into institutions
and concrete action. and as you begin to look at the core of his scholarship, you begin to see that jim is writing about a world, inhabits a world in which culture and religious or perhaps more concisely moral thought for family shapes how human beings live their lives. and moral thought shapes how society and history develop. monumental fire of the minds of men makes it very clear that ideas shape the world. for jim the concept of liberty is essential fuel for driving human action. it maybe actually one of the reasons why he has approached libraries as democratic institution the way he has but he tells a story in the book of
how important the french revolution war was in igniting the fires of men. having changed the world profoundly through revolutionary slogan which was more than a slogan and as those ideas shaped, they shaped the world not the least they reshaped russia. so to comprehend contemporary russia means you can't just take a single dimension and varton actually noted the importance of not relying on a single entry point but we have to begin to understand how various factors are introwoven and understanding of what russia can be and what russia is and what russia
strides to be. and at the center of this quest for what it means to be russian as jim argues in later works such as the face of russia and russia in search of itself, russian orthodox thought and belief. that set of beliefs provides the moral underpinning to russian thought and action. an underpinning that's the moral of life. correspondent donald mckenzie wrote in 19th century, russia offends the protestant mind. [laughter] >> this doesn't mean that russia doesn't have a moral base, a moral compass, it means rather that russian moral calibration depends on different readings
altogether. and that's an idea that went through jim's writing about russia and i think it also explains his remarkable friendship who is a profoundly moral figure particularly as russia searched for itself following the collapse to have soviet union and jim understood the power. now, this perspective on russia, he brought with him when he came to princeton and washington, wilson center of library of congress and it's interesting i think to trace it back a little bit, a perspective that he shares with some of the greatest thinkers on russia in the 20th century including own professor isaiah berlin and these are thinkers that devoted lives to understand russia through the
prisms of that society's historical and philosophical foundations and not surprising just as berlin was developing what became famous two concepts with liberty in which he argued that a single political concept such as liberty can have a plurality of meanings often contradicting one another and i hadn't realized -- i looked at the date of when berlin's seminole war came out and it must have been the time you probably discussed in seminars and it's a really powerful important idea about the meaning of liberty but it also is powerful important idea about the importance of contradictions and consciousness and this is especially true when we approach russia where george script, when confronted with two contradicted statements about russia, assume
they are both true. [laughter] >> as jim noted, at time of uncertainty we have to turn to historians to help us appreciate why it is that two contradictory phenomena can be part of a whole and this is the role where historians and especially intellectual and cultural historians like jim billington come in. why does this matter at all? if we stop to consider present-day debates about putin, today's russia, i think we can begin to understand how much jim's perspective can inform a western world struggling to understand putin, his goals and his relationship with the russian people. he and his work should force us to step back and think a moment. now, what's interesting is washington within 3 miles of where we are sitting, scores of people who are ambitious and
want heavy opportunity to go what george kennan do, sit down and write cable which shapes parameters for half a century. [laughter] >> what they failed to appreciate is that a kennan, berlin, billington didn't just sit down and writing article or book, they were able to write the way they have written because they had already devoted a portion of their souls to engaging with russia. this engagement is the wealth spring of inside of knowledge and their wisdom. jim captures this as well as anybody in opening of book of experience being in moscow, russia transformed, breakthrough to hope. this appeared while events were
unfolding shortly after in the month after the failed coup. a time of euphoria about washington's future in washington and moscow and what's important to understand jim was clearly enjoying nice dinners with jim collins but also getting in and out the city and that becomes very much reflected and left the bunker and went out into russia -- was living through moscow, was living through a revolutionary moment and this is why with all of his knowledge coming together with that moment he was able to begin his book, the cold war ended with neither bang or wimp but with heroism with russians at the height of the empire in russia. these provided adrenaline shot of hope and confidence to
russian people but hopes predictably gave way for the events started a process of innovation and change in russian society that was bound to continue in conditions with peril. he then continues and, again, remember, he's writing this in 1991, 1992, post communist russian commitment to democracy in market economy was not accompanied by any real historical experience in russia or exposure to functioning for institutions. preparation for new path was inadequate and many zig zags clearly lie ahead. he then asked, to understand the immensity that the august days brought to russia, one must call rev legacy of russian history where it's almost unrelieved
record of rule and what's important is jim isn't saying there's no hope because he writes about the events of august 1991 as a breakthrough moment for the russian people but that hope is tempered by his appreciation of everything that led up to those events and therefore his understanding of the enormity of the transformation that lie ahead and i think the legacy of jim's scholarship on russia for anyone concerned about russian society and russian culture and russian people is demonstrated through his own writings that such an appreciation is possible. thank you. [applause] >> well, blaire, thank you so
much and i cannot thank the panel enough to provide, the heft, rhetoric and jim's insight in his very own words from such a wide-range of the parts of human life that jim your work has touched. we are at time but i know that a lot of you gathered in this room as i said earlier testament to the incredible esteem in which jim is held in this town and in our country and globally might have thoughts that you want to add, i know a few people have mention today me already, so i would suggest is that in a relatively concise way, we make the microphone if we have microphones, yes, we do available to anyone who will raise their hand now and let me know, we will take a few minutes now to let you add comments and thoughts to those of the panel, yes, wayne. >> hello, i'm wayne, american
foreign policy council, i would like to add a word about dr. billington's attribute of teacher because he was scholar and then all great things he did here. i was fortunate enough to be one of his graduate students at another institution named woodrow wilson up the road in princeton and what i took away from that seminar was the astonishing concept that the soviet union was not going to be around forever and i remember vividly the discussion of his assertion that the russian church was more fundamental watershed for russia than revolution. all of the students regarded that but at the end of the course and by the end of my first go-through of the icon and axei had been persuaded of that. i encountered that the soviet
union was culmination of russian history hence forever, the cold war was permanent and it wouldn't be the case and in my own assignments i came to deepening understanding of that. i certainly didn't expect to be around when it had its culmination in the end of the soviet union but when it it did and i was there i certainly cannot claim to have been psychologically prepared but intellectually i was entirely comfortable and that was entirely because of that seminar i'd had earlier with a great teacher. >> thank you, wayne. [applause] >> okay, right here. >> thank you. in 1996i participated in issues and a friend of mine, she brought me to your office in the
library and i ask you, what language, she said it doesn't matter, engine -- english or russia, everybody who is in this room because this program gave me a lot of possibilities and to -- for two countries for both. russia and america, thank you very much. you are my best teacher, thank you. [applause] >> yes, right here. >> i just we wanted to mention one honor which was not mentioned by esteemed panel. >> introduce yourself, please. >> mark newman. i'm a friend of the wilson center or billington. >> i can't see anyone. >> honor law public, act of congress signed by the president of the united states, president obama, which designates
dr. billington as librarian of congress, only the second person, third person in history of our country to be afforded that honor and so for all of you who don't think that speaker ryan, pelosi and mcconnell and so forth and president obama, they can agree on the extraordinary service of dr. billington. [applause] >> i think that's a fittingly optimistic note in the macro sense on which to conclude and befitting of the service of jim billington who once again i would ask everyone to just join in thanking him for joining us today, the billington family, this panel for doing such fitting honor to him, thank you all. [applause]