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What Does the Librarian of Congress Do?

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The Librarian of Congress doesn’t need vocational experience as a librarian or a library science degree to hold the position. He—every Librarian since the position was created in 1802 has been male—is appointed by the President of the United States, must be approved by the Senate, and is responsible for the world’s largest library.

That’s quite a lot to have on one person’s shoulders.

The Librarian is in charge of overseeing the Library of Congress, managing congressional relations, appointing staff—including the Poet Laureate—and supervising administrative work related to budgetary concerns, legal services, communications, and events.

The Librarian also oversees the Copyright Office, which in 2013 registered 496,599 claims to copyright and forwarded almost 642,000 copies of works to the Library’s collections. In a 2010 statement, current Librarian of Congress James H. Billington explained that every three years, in accordance with the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) [PDF], the Librarian reexamines the copyright law in relation to new technologies to reassess who is eligible to circumvent the pre-existing regulations “in order to engage in noninfriging uses of works.”

For example, in 2010, Billington approved the use of short clips of copyrighted motion pictures in documentaries and noncommercial videos saying that it was solely “for the purpose of criticism or comment, when the person engaging in circumvention reasonably believes that it is necessary to fulfill that purpose.” The 2010 ruling was based on a previous decision to allow film and media studies professors to create compilations of film clips for instructional purposes.

This year, Billington announced his retirement from what is considered to be a life-long post. During his 28-year run, he’s ushered the institution into the modern age by making more digitized materials available online, creating resource sites like Congress.gov, and giving the Library a social media presence.

However, his departure follows a 2013 audit that found that millions of items were stuck in buildings and warehouses and not available to the public. A more recent government investigation noted Billington’s inability to manage the Library’s technological resources, finding “widespread weaknesses” when it came to keeping the Library up-to-date.

With Billington stepping down on January 1, 2016, it’ll be up to the president to find a worthy replacement.

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This Just In
Pablo Neruda's Death Wasn't Caused by Cancer, Experts Conclude
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Pablo Neruda—whose real name was Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto—died on September 23, 1973, less than two years after he was awarded the 1971 Nobel Prize in Literature. The official cause of death was recorded as cancer cachexia, or wasting syndrome, from prostate cancer. But while Neruda did have cancer, new tests on his remains indicate that the left-leaning Chilean politician and poet didn’t actually succumb to the disease, according to BBC News.

It’s still unclear what, exactly, caused Neruda’s demise. But in a recent press conference, a team of 16 international experts announced that they were "100 percent convinced" that the author's death certificate "does not reflect the reality of the death,” as quoted by the BBC.

Neruda died in 1973 at the age of 69, less than two weeks after a military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet ousted the Marxist government of President Salvador Allende. Neruda, a Communist, was a former diplomat and senator, and a friend of the deposed politician.

In 2011, Manuel Araya, Neruda’s chauffeur, claimed that the poet had told him that Pinochet’s men had injected poison into his stomach as he was hospitalized during his final days, Nature reports. The Communist Party of Chile filed a criminal lawsuit, and Neruda’s remains were exhumed in 2013 and later reburied in 2016, according to the BBC.

Many of Neruda’s relatives and friends were reportedly skeptical of Araya’s account, as was the Pablo Neruda Foundation, according to The New York Times. But after samples of Neruda’s remains were analyzed by forensic genetics laboratories in four nations, Chile’s government acknowledged that it was “highly probable” that his official cause of death was incorrect.

And now, the team of scientists has unanimously ruled out cachexia as having caused Neruda’s death. “There was no indication of cachexia,” said Dr. Niels Morling, a forensic medical expert from the University of Copenhagen, as quoted by The Guardian. Neruda “was an obese man at the time of death. All other circumstances in his last phase of life pointed to some kind of infection.”

The investigating team says that their analysis yielded what might be lab-cultivated bacteria, although it could have also originated from the burial site or been produced during the body's decomposition process. Test results will be available within a year, they say.

[h/t BBC News]

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Art
Winston Churchill’s Final Painting Is Going to Auction for the First Time
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While serving as an influential statesman and writing Nobel Prize-winning histories, Winston Churchill also found time to paint. Now, The Telegraph reports that the final painting the former British prime minister ever committed to canvas is heading to the auction block.

The piece, titled The Goldfish Pool at Chartwell, depicts the pond at Churchill’s home in Kent, England, which has been characterized as his “most special place in the world.” A few years after the painting was finished, he passed away in 1965 and it fell into the possession of his former bodyguard, Sergeant Edmund Murray. Murray worked for Churchill for the 15 years leading up to the prime minister's death and often assisted with his painting by setting up his easel and brushes. After decades in the Murray family, Churchill’s final painting will be offered to the public for the first time at Sotheby’s Modern & Post-War British Art sale next month.

Winston Churchill's final painting.
Sotheby's

Churchill took up painting in the 1920s and produced an estimated 544 artworks in his lifetime. He never sold any of his art, but The Goldfish Pool at Chartwell shows that the hobby was an essential part of his life right up until his last years.

When the never-before-exhibited piece goes up for sale on November 21, it’s expected to attract bids up to $105,500. It won’t mark the first time an original Winston Churchill painting has made waves at auction: In a 2014, a 1932 depiction of his same beloved goldfish pond sold for over $2.3 million.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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