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Meet Your New Librarian of Congress

Carla Hayden will make history as the first African-American in the role—and the first woman

Carla Hayden will be the nation's first woman and first African-American to serve as Librarian of Congress. (American Library Association)
smithsonian.com

Libraries are usually seen as repositories of history, not places where history is made. But yesterday was an exception as the Senate moved to confirm the nation’s next Librarian of Congress—one who is widely expected to change the institution and the role forever. Now, reports Peggy McGlone for The Washington Post, Carla Hayden will become America’s 14th Librarian of Congress, and the first African-American and first woman to ever take on the role.

Hayden, the CEO of Baltimore’s free public library system, trained as a children’s librarian and was a past president of the American Library Association (ALA). She gained fame within Baltimore for focusing on technology at the 130-year-old library system and has managed large budgets and staffs, The Baltimore Sun’s John Fritze reports

Hayden’s nomination and acceptance were supported by the American Library Association, which mounted a grassroots social media campaign (#Hayden4LOC) in the hopes of installing her in the position. In a release, Julie Todaro, president of the ALA, states that “the librarian community is elated” at the news. And for good reason—Hayden is undoubtedly a more modern librarian than others who have served in the prestigious role.

Hayden’s predecessor, James Hadley Billington, was nominated by President Ronald Reagan and served in the role for 28 years. But he resigned last year after a tenure that, in the words of The New York Times’ Michael D. Shear, included “a series of management and technology failures in the library that were documented in more than a dozen reports by watchdog agencies.” Billington was criticized for letting millions of books fester in warehouses and failing to digitize the more than 162 million items for which the library is known, and Shear reports that he refused to use email, preferring to communicate via fax instead.

In the past, presidential nominations tended to focus on patronage and vague qualifications, and the role did not require that the librarian have served as a professional librarian at any time. Former Librarians of Congress carried out what was, in effect, a lifetime term. As a result, the the institution has only had 13 leaders in its 216-year-long history. That recently changed when Congress passed a bill limiting the term of the Librarian of Congress to 10 years.

Hayden had to undergo a confirmation hearing and political gridlock before being confirmed to the position by a 74-18 vote, McGlone reports. Just what does her post entail? In short, she’ll be responsible for overseeing the nation’s largest cultural institution, but her job will have other perks (and challenges). Not only does the Librarian of Congress name the nation’s Poet Laureate, but she oversees the Copyright Office, makes critical exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, oversees the National Recording Registry and National Film Registry and serves as the public face of books in the United States.

It’s a tall order—but one that America’s newest Librarian of Congress seems enthused to take on. Hayden tells Fritze that she looks forward to opening “the treasure chest that is the Library of Congress even further and [making] it a place that can be found and used by everyone.”

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