On Wednesday, Carla Hayden was confirmed as the United States’ next Librarian of Congress, after breezing through a confirmation hearing in April and being confirmed by the Senate in a 74-18 vote.
Dr. Hayden, who has been the CEO of Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library since 1993, is the first new Librarian of Congress since the Reagan administration, when James Billington, who retired late last year, was appointed. Hayden has worked in libraries in Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore since the 1970s.
Here are some interesting things about her, and what her appointment to lead the Library of Congress means:
1) She’s the first Librarian of Congress who isn’t a white guy
Here’s what the Library’s “Previous Librarians of Congress” page looks like:
Hayden is the first woman to hold the job, as well as the first African American. (The former Acting Librarian of Congress, Daniel Mao, isn’t white, but he was only temporarily in place until Hayden was confirmed.)
2) She’s a librarian!
It’s been a while since the job of Librarian of Congress was held by someone with real training as a librarian. Billington, who held the job for almost thirty years, was an academic who studied Russia. His predecessor, Daniel Boorstin, was an historian. That means the last time an actual librarian was running was the Library of Congress was 1974, when Lawrence Quincy Mumford, who’d previously worked at the New York Public Library, retired as Librarian of Congress after a 20-year tenure. The lack of a librarian in charge has caused problems, and many groups, including the American Library Association, had hoped that President Obama would appoint a librarian.
3) She has a very big job ahead of her
There’s a reason many groups wanted President Obama to appoint a librarian to the Librarian of Congress job: the last academic hadn’t really been doing a stellar job, especially when it came to information technology.
As the first Librarian of Congress appointed since the advent of widespread internet access, Hayden will have to oversee fixing the Library’s IT and digitization efforts. Last March, the Government Accountability Office issued a report that was very critical of the Library’s management and their handling of IT issues. In the last few years this seemed attributable directly to Billington; the GAO reported that “The Library does not have the leadership needed to address these IT management weaknesses.”
When he announced his retirement last summer The New York Times reported that colleagues “no longer recognize the charismatic, energetic librarian they once knew” and staffers said that he “does not use email and that they often communicate with him through a fax machine at his house.” Some even took it a step farther; according to The Washington Post “one employee joked that some workers were thinking of organizing a conga line down Pennsylvania Avenue. Another said it felt like someone opened a window.”
4) She’s a privacy advocate
In 2003 and 2004 Hayden served as President of the American Library Association. This was still the early days of the PATRIOT Act, and the ALA were not fans. After the ALA came out against the act then-Attorney General John Ashcroft said they were “pushing ‘baseless hysteria.’” Hayden responded with a statement that ended with the following:
We are deeply concerned that the Attorney General should be so openly contemptuous of those who seek to defend our Constitution. Rather than ask the nations’ librarians and Americans nationwide to “just trust him,” Ashcroft could allay concerns by releasing aggregate information about the number of libraries visited using the expanded powers created by the USA PATRIOT Act.
Or, better yet, federal elected officials could vote–as several U.S. senators and representatives from across the political spectrum have proposed–to restore the historical protection of library records.
According to a look back at the period published by the Post in 2014, Hayden says Ashcroft called her and “expressed that he was sorry that he might have said something that could have been offensive–and that he didn’t intend that.”
In a 2003 Ms. Magazine profile of Hayden, she also offers this great quote:
Libraries are a cornerstone of democracy—where information is free and equally available to everyone. People tend to take that for granted, and they don’t realize what is at stake when that is put at risk.
5) She’s an old friend of the Obamas
In the 1970s and ’80s, Hayden worked in various positions within the Chicago Public Library system and at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. During that time, according to the statement released by the White House announcing her nomination, she got to know and became friends with Barack and Michelle Obama. In his brief statement on the nomination, Obama said:
Michelle and I have known Dr. Carla Hayden for a long time, since her days working at the Chicago Public Library…She has the proven experience, dedication, and deep knowledge of our nation’s libraries to serve our country well and that’s why I look forward to working with her in the months ahead.
This post has been updated.