iSchool alumnus named Library of Congress Historian

iSchool alumnus John Cole was recently named the Library of Congress Historian, a new position dedicated to serving as the top technical expert and adviser on the institution’s history.

Cole, a 1966 graduate of what was then the University of Washington School of Librarianship, has served in leadership roles during his 50-year career with the Library of Congress. He was the founding director of its Center for the Book, which was created by a 1977 law, and is the author of several books about the institution. He has played a key role in the library’s National Book Festival, which attracts more than 80,000 visitors, and chairs its Literacy Award program.

“John Cole has had a remarkable career of distinguished service at the Library of Congress and has been one of the institution’s leading historians, writing many articles and publications about its developing roles as a legislative, national and international institution,” said David Mao, the acting Librarian of Congress. “John’s depth and breadth of knowledge about the Library is a particularly critical resource as the institution prepares to transition to new leadership.”

Cole said in 2015 that his education at the UW shaped how he has dealt with technological changes throughout his career. Professor Irving Lieberman, he said, “kept reminding us that it is a wide and ever-changing world of technology, and as new professionals we should look carefully at new developments and see if we can use them to our advantage.” He has carried that message with him throughout his career at the Library of Congress, which has undergone profound changes in the age of digitization.

Cole was one of two outstanding graduates nominated for a Library of Congress management internship by leaders at the UW school in 1966, when libraries were just beginning to explore automating operations and the new field of “media studies.”

“Even then, people at the iSchool had the foresight to see what was happening in the field,” he said.

Among his achievements, Cole is the first chair of the Library of Congress Literacy Awards, established in 2013; co-chaired the bicentennial celebration in 2000; and developed the popular reading and writing contest Letters About Literature in 1992. As director of the Center for the Book, he has been instrumental in shaping numerous reading and literacy-promotion programs, including the Books & Beyond author series (1996), the National Book Festival (2001), the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature (2008), and the Library of Congress Young Readers Center (2009).

To honor Cole’s distinguished service to the profession of librarianship, the American Library Association in 2000 presented him with its prestigious Lippincott Award.