Politics

Remembering James Billington, Who Brought Ice Skating to the Library of Congress

Long-serving librarian of Congress died at age 89 on Nov. 20

Skaters perform in the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building on an acrylic surface that was installed on the floor of the Great Hall. The event entitled The Role of Arts in International Relations was put on by American University's Initiative for Russian Culture and The Mariinsky Foundation. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Tributes to the late Librarian of Congress James Billington have touched on his transformational role at the institution, his scholarship of Russian and intellect. But he also brought ice skating, yes ice skating, to the institution's Great Hall. 

On Oct. 25, 2012, the nation's repository of knowledge rolled out not exactly ice but an acrylic surface for “ice dancers” to perform in a winter wonderland for the Role of the Arts in International Relations, an event sponsored by American University’s Initiative for Russian Culture and the Mariinsky Foundation.

“It’s once in a lifetime,” Billington said at the time, as “Swan Lake” reverberated through the marble columns in the library’s Jefferson Building. 

That could have described a lot of the experiences of Billington as he served as the nation’s cultural custodian for 28 years, from squiring Beatle Paul McCartney around to showing school kids some of the library's first digitally interactive exhibits to hobnobbing with documentarian Ken Burns. 

Musician Paul McCartney, left, arrives with to a news conference with Librarian of Congress James Billington, to announce that the former Beatle had won the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, June 2, 2010.
Musician Paul McCartney, left, arrives with to a news conference with Librarian of Congress James Billington, to announce that the former Beatle had won the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, June 2, 2010. (CQ Roll Call file photo)
Librarian of Congress James H. Billington talks with school kids during a media preview of the new LOC Experience, which will feature interactive exhibits and touch-screen technology in the Jefferson Building on April 9, 2008...
Librarian of Congress James Billington talks with school kids during a media preview of the new LOC Experience, which will feature interactive exhibits and touch-screen technology in the Jefferson Building on April 9, 2008. (CQ Roll Call file photo)
Librarian of Congress James Billington speaks with filmmaker Ken Burns before the start of the news conference to announce the National Veterans Video Oral History Campaign at the Library of Congress on Tuesday, April 17, 2007.
Librarian of Congress James Billington speaks with filmmaker Ken Burns before the start of the news conference to announce the National Veterans Video Oral History Campaign at the Library of Congress on Tuesday, April 17, 2007. (CQ Roll Call file photo)

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