President Barack Obama is trying to make history and bring the Library of Congress into the 21st century all with one nomination. On Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016, Obama nominated Dr. Carla D. Hayden as the 16th Librarian of Congress with a video and White House press release. Hayden, 63 would be the first African American to helm the post, and surprisingly considering the library profession also the first woman. Not only would Hayden personally make history, professionally she would as well being on the second professionally trained librarian to head the nation’s library.
In his statement, President Obama commended Hayden personally, “Michelle and I have known Dr. Carla Hayden for a long time, since her days working at the Chicago Public Library, and I am proud to nominate her to lead our nation’s oldest federal institution as our 14th Librarian of Congress.”
The president also emphasized her professional background and accomplishments. Obama pointed out, “Dr. Hayden has devoted her career to modernizing libraries so that everyone can participate in today’s digital culture. 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.”
Obama also emphasized Hayden’s history-making qualities, “If confirmed, Dr. Hayden would be the first woman and the first African-American to hold the position – both of which are long overdue.” Hayden also spoke about her history-making appointment in the White House’s nomination video. Hayden said, “Being the first female and the first African-American really brings together two aspects of – of course – my life that make this even more significant in terms of how people view the future of libraries, and what a national library can be. It’s inclusive. It can be part of everyone’s story.”
Hayden, however, has an exceptional experience for the position, and with glowing references from her colleagues. She would become only the second professionally trained librarian to run the Library of Congress, possessing a Ph.D. from the Graduate Library School of the University of Chicago. Hayden is also a former professor of Library and Information Science having taught at the University of Pittsburgh in the late 1980s.
In preparation for running the nation’s ultimate public library, Hayden has devoted her career to working in public libraries, with her start at the Chicago Public Library as an Associate and Children’s Librarian to becoming the Deputy Commissioner and Chief Librarian of the Chicago Public Library. Currently, Hayden is the CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Maryland a position she has held for over 20 years.
The Enoch Pratt library system may not be the biggest, but Hayden has managed to turn it around “updating the library’s technology and improving its community outreach,” opening a new branch and renovating the central one. In 1995, the Library Journal gave Hayden the Librarian of the Year Award for her work at Enoch Pratt. What stands out, however, was her courage and steadfastness to keep the library open through the often-violent Freddie Gray protests and riots last year.
Hayden has an equal dedication to service her profession, having been the President of the American Library Association from 2003 to 2004. Current American Library Association President Sari Feldman highly praised the former ALA president, “She has been known so much for the way she has looked outward, the way she has recognized the needs of our community and the integration of the changing library and technology environment. The way the Pratt Library handled itself under pressure during the Baltimore riots …. the library recognized it was a place of information, it was a place of safety, and a place where the community could come together to discuss the issues of the city and the issues of the time.”
The Senate is deep in a fight with President Obama over a Supreme Court replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia, who died earlier this month. The Senate will be necessary to confirm Hayden. So far, leaders in the appropriate committees seem open, but nothing more to allowing Hayden to go through the confirmation process.
Reps. Candice S. Miller (R-Mich.), chairman of the Committee on House Administration, and Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), vice chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library issued a statement. Miller and Harper commented, “The next Librarian must be committed to building upon the institution’s tradition of the advancement of knowledge throughout the world. We look forward to hearing more from Dr. Carla D. Hayden as she makes her way through the Senate confirmation process.” Hayden is not a stranger to the confirmation process having gone through it in 2010 when Obama nominated her to be a member of the National Museum and Library Services Board.
Winston Tabb, the dean of university libraries and museums at Johns Hopkins University spoke to the Washington Post commending Obama’s choice to nominate a proven librarian. Tabb said, “There is so much that needs to be done in the development of the digital library. There’s a need for leadership that has the instinct for where the concerns are, and how to make the Library of Congress not just the congressional library, but truly a national library.”
Hayden will be the first Librarian of Congress to serve since Congress passed a law that limits the librarian to a 10-year renewal term, which Obama signed last year. Last year James H. Billington controversially retired early last fall, after serving 28 years. Republican President Ronald Reagan nominated Billington. The Library of Congress faced criticism for being behind current technology trends and what is expected of the library.
A Government Accountability Office report released last March “criticized the library for the lack of an IT plan as the country turned more towards digital records,” and the “library’s information security and the absence of a chief technology officer.” The library remedied the lack of technology officer problem, by appointing a head in September. Still there is a lot that needs to be done to bring the library up to par; with Hayden’s background, she might be the perfect fit to accomplish the job.