Any study of the future of a social institution runs the risk of becoming so attached to analysis of the present state of the institution as to lose sight of the horizon. In these concluding remarks, it is not the committee’s purpose to summarize its findings and recommendations (that is done in the Executive Summary), but to encourage readers of this report to take a deep breath and to look out to the horizon.
The Library of Congress would not exist and would not hold so large a place in the imaginative life of our culture unless it embodied powerful ideas. It collects broadly and it gives access to what it has collected. It serves no narrow set of interests but rather the broadest public purposes of a powerful nation. It represents the commitment of the governing bodies of that nation to a strategy of preserving the heritage of the past and making it useful for the future. The vast size of LC’s collections is dwarfed only by the ambition of the purposes it serves.
The committee has sought throughout its work on this report to maintain that breadth of vision. Its recommendations are meant to support LC today as it pursues that vision. But the intent is not only to provide solutions for today’s problems. If that were so, the last chapter, about the nuts and bolts of information technology, might be several times its present length and minutely detailed. Instead, the committee has come to believe that what LC and its friends need most today is to anchor the struggle with today’s problems more firmly than ever to the vision of the future that animates the Library. With the Library and its friends focused
on a common vision, it will be easier to take the steps—some small, some large—that need to be taken.
None of this will be cheap. The Library has grown enormously beyond what Congress could have expected in 1800, but Congress and the nation have responded handsomely to the challenges of growth implicit in the missions entrusted to LC. It is the committee’s warmest recommendation as it submits this report that the management of LC and its allies in the Congress and elsewhere always remember the formidable magnitude of LC’s missions and look upon that responsibility with characteristically American optimism. For what LC is and has been, the future will seem expensive, but for the value it delivers to the nation and the world, the Library is and always has been a bargain. The value it can add if it achieves a vision for the digital age will also make it a bargain in the future. The increases in cost over the next decade may seem steep by traditional budget parameters, but they will still be linear and not geometric—amounting to small-percentage increases every year. And the results will be of immense value: of that the committee is certain.
How should LC begin to pursue that vision? In other words, of all that has been said here, what should LC undertake first and most urgently? The committee would suggest the following priorities:
First, information technology can, should, and must be taken as a strategic asset of the Library as a whole and managed strategically from the very top. The committee’s recommendation that an additional deputy librarian be appointed speaks directly to this urgent, indeed desperate, need.
Second, some fires must be put out. For example, network and security issues need to be addressed on an urgent basis, before the year 2000 is out.
Third, within a year, there needs to be serious strategic planning. Concrete projects must be established and undertaken to make real the Library’s ability to select, acquire, preserve, and manage digital content. These initiatives must reach across the whole interlinked set of processes from copyright registration through deposit to reader services. The projects must be undertaken, moreover, in the context of worldwide and nationwide consultation and collaboration.
All that the committee has said in this report is embraced by those three priorities. If this report is well received and implemented, then by the end of the summer of 2001, clear and dramatic movement will be visible and LC will be well on its way to reclaiming real leadership in the broad community of libraries.
The Library of Congress must continue to collect the cultural prod-
ucts of the United States and the world on the broadest scale possible and to do so while working with energy and imagination to make those collections available to the broadest possible audience. Libraries may attract our attention with their contents, but they earn our admiration for opening up their treasures to readers. Digital technologies may seem to overwhelm us with their quantity, but they can and should dazzle us by their power for making information accessible on a scale never before imagined.
In the end, then, the committee entrusts to its colleagues at LC its profound sense that the challenges they face can be, should be, and indeed are exhilarating ones. To have responsibility for a great library in this time of dramatic change and opportunity carries both great risk and great opportunity. The risk and the opportunity are unavoidable; wisdom lies in seizing the opportunity.