Librarian of Congress James Billington’s recent announcement that he plans to step down reopens the door to the modern era for the institution. President Obama’s search for a successor should also include a discussion on the suitable tenure and evaluation of the nation’s chief librarian.

Besides maintaining an unparalleled collection of books, the librarian oversees the national copyright office and provides research and analysis to Congress. The next librarian will need to develop a system to make existing materials searchable online and to digitize material as it comes in.

The world’s largest library demands technological savvy and managerial finesse as well as academic stature. Finding one individual with all these capabilities is admittedly a tall order. Whoever Obama picks will need a strong supporting team.

But even a first-rate leader and team will not be enough to ensure the library’s continued success. An esteemed scholar, Billington, now 86, assumed his post with innovative ideas. But over his nearly 28 years there, the Library of Congress failed to hire a chief information officer or keep pace with essential digitization efforts.

The U.S. has seen 44 presidents but only 13 librarians of Congress. Years of tradition have granted the post de-facto life tenure. It is time for a change. Tougher oversight and renewable terms based on performance would help ensure that the quality of the librarian always matches the immense importance of the job.

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