ATG NewsChannel Original: Meet Carla Hayden – Our Next Librarian of Congress?

Nancy HertherBy Nancy K. Herther

This is part 3 of a 3 part series. (Click to view part 1.  Click to view part 2.)

In a recent two-part article, ATG presented a summary of today’s leadership conundrum for the Library of Congress (LOC) and the politics surrounding Congressional approval for James Billington’s replacement. President Obama’s choice for the role is Dr. Carla Hayden, current CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library (EPFL) in Baltimore. However, for many people Dr. Carla Hayden is not a household name. When contacted for this article, Hayden’s assistant explained that Hayden is unable to make any public comment ahead of her confirmation hearings—if they transpire—before Congress. So ATG decided to reach out to colleagues and do some research to provide readers with a better sense of this nominee.

In a Feb. 24, 2016 blog post, Internet Archive’s Brewster Kahle expressed his support for Hayden, noting that, “as a public librarian, she can bring an access and public service orientation to a position that has traditionally been focused on Congress’ needs and collecting valuable materials. The Library of Congress is both a powerful symbol and a fabulous organization. Its collections are unbelievable—there are employees in Cairo and Delhi collecting the best that humanity has produced. The Library has high collecting standards and has resisted restrictions from being put on access. For instance, the Library of Congress has actively pursued web archiving since 2000 and made these collections more available than almost any other institution. As the home of the US Copyright Office, the Library can keep the constitutional balance in mind as copyright laws evolve. All of these features of the Library play into the strengths of Carla Hayden who can help shape a potent institution for our new century.” Kahle has known Hayden through their mutual service with the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Getting To Know Carla Hayden

Carla Diane Hayden has both a Master’s and Doctorate degree and taught at the University of Pittsburgh library school before accepting professional positions at the Chicago Public Library and later at the Enoch Pratt Free Library. She was named National Librarian of the Year by Library Journal (the first black person to get this award) in 1995, and was elected President of the American Library Association (ALA) in 2003/2004. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Hayden has been a dedicated, active member of the library and information community throughout her career.


Carla Hayden

Born in Tallahassee, Florida on Aug. 10, 1952, Hayden grew up in Queens, New York, moving to Chicago when she was 10 years old. She worked in children’s departments at Chicago Public Library (CPL) from 1973-1979, then as young adult services coordinator from 1979-1982. Her undergraduate degree was from Roosevelt University. Under the name Carla Diane Hayden Waters, her 1977 Masters thesis at the University of Chicago studied “A Public Library Program for the Parent and Preschool Child.” She worked as library services coordinator at the Museum of Science and Industry 1982-1987. For her doctorate in 1987, her thesis was titled “A Frontier of Librarianship: Service for Children in Museums.” She was an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh from 1987-1991 before returning to CPL as deputy commissioner and chief librarian from 1991-1993. In 1993 she left Chicago to take on leadership of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore (EPFL).

In the past 23 years she has led the library by instituting system-wide technology updates, renovations, and new construction to the central library and its 22 branch libraries in what is also now the Maryland State Library Resource Center—which means that it also serves as the state library for Maryland. Library Board of Directors and Trustees Chair Patricia Lasher notes that Hayden “has made this library system a world renowned institution and continued Enoch Pratt’s legacy by providing a place of learning for all citizens with amazing resources, services, and programming.”

The library made headlines last year when, in the midst of protests over the death of African-American Freddie Gray while in police custody, Hayden kept the Pennsylvania Avenue branch open to provide “comfort and community” to the Baltimore residents during this difficult time. Speaking for the EPFL, Roswell Encina, EPFL Director of Communications noted that, “It’s at times like this that the community needs us. That’s what the library has always been there for, from crises like this to a recession to the aftermath of severe weather. The library has been there. It happened in Ferguson; it’s happening here.”

Hayden also initiated many innovative programs for children, adults, jobseekers and other populations in the EPFL community. Her work didn’t go unnoticed by the wider community. She was featured often in local press, from tours of her home to coverage of various programs, book recommendations, and other civic involvements.

carla2Beyond the state line, Hayden was named the first African American as the Library Journal‘s Librarian of the Year in 1995, made the Ms magazine’s list of ten Women of the Year in 2003 and ALA’s 2013 Joseph W. Lippincott Award in honor of her “distinguished service to the profession of librarianship.” In 2003 Hayden was elected President of the ALA on a platform to increase diversity in the profession, seeking to focus on seeing that “underrepresented groups are not just listened to but actually have a role in decision-making, and are a real part of this organization;” Using “consensus building and an ability to sort through those different areas of concern and move the organization and the agendas of the organization forward.”

“One of the major components of retention and recruitment,” she mentioned in her ALA campaign, “is making sure that we have pay equity and comparable benefits, and it works for both the attraction and for making sure that people stay with us…I’d like to be remembered as the president who tried to make inclusion a watchword for this Association, who tried to make sure that all voices were heard, all viewpoints were given respect, and that even when we had differences of opinion we could still come together as unified, and that people could look out and really see a rainbow of opinion and, actually, of color.”

During her presidency, she led the profession, along with ALA, in expressing concern about various aspects of the post 9/11 USA PATRIOT Act. During efforts by the Bush administration to pass their version of the bill, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft made a series of speeches to groups across the country to extol the virtues and mute concerns about specific aspects of the bill. In one particular case he tried to paint librarians as hysterical. As Library Journal’s John Berry noted, “American Library Association president Carla Hayden quickly offered an immediate, effective response. The organization is ‘deeply concerned that the Attorney General should be so openly contemptuous’ of the librarians, Hayden said. She pointed out that librarians had a history of combating FBI surveillance dating back to the McCarthy era and reminded Ashcroft that under the FBI’s Library Awareness Program, agents snooped in libraries up until the 1980s. ‘Rather than ask the nation’s librarians to just trust him,’ Hayden asserted that Ashcroft could allay fears by releasing aggregate information on how many libraries had been visited via the expanded powers under Section 215….Ashcroft speedily backed off.”

In a January 2004 statement to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee speaking for ALA and the profession, Hayden noted that “we are, as members of the American public and as librarians, deeply surveillance-156028_1280concerned about certain provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act which increase the likelihood that the activities of library users, including their use of computers to browse the Web or access e-mail, may be under government surveillance without their knowledge or consent. We are also deeply concerned about the revised Attorney General Guidelines to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and other related measures that give the federal government overly-broad authority to investigate citizens and non-citizens without particularized suspicion, to engage in surveillance, and to threaten civil rights and liberties guaranteed under the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights.”

In a cover article in the ALA Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom (Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom 53 no5 165, 219 S 2004), a 2004 FOIA document request uncovered FBI papers showing that “the FBI sought to use Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act less than one month after Attorney General John Ashcroft told American Library Association President Carla Hayden and the American public that this power had never been used. The records, turned over to the Freedom to Read Foundation and other First Amendment organizations, do not indicate how many times the FBI has invoked Section 215 since October 2003.” In response to this release, Hayden noted on behalf of the profession that “these documents demonstrate there is no validity in the Department of Justice’s ongoing suggestions that librarians and other critics of PATRIOT Act provisions are ‘hysterical.’ The guidance memo confirms the ALA’s understanding of the scope and nature of the business records authority granted by Section 215 and that the judicial review is of a lower legal standard than was previously provided in U.S. law.”

The imposition of the PATRIOT Act may have derailed some of Hayden’s planned programs for her ALA Presidency, but she proved to be an effective leader in the face of major challenges to First Amendment freedoms confronting libraries and our democracy.

The Politics of Left, Right & Wrong

A conservative blogger has questioned Hayden’s fitness due to her lack of experience as a scholar or her “ability to sponsor and inspire cutting-edge research; about her ability to attract scholars from around the world to the Library of Congress; about her ability to enhance the collections in content and subject matter; about her plans for innovative conferences, symposia, and exhibitions; or her plans to revive the National Book Festival, the LOC’s signature event, which has suffered cutbacks and decline during the Obama administration; or her willingness to embrace the LOC’s mission to promote American cultural greatness.”

One commenter to that blog posting, identifying herself as Victoria Behrens, describes her reaction to Hayden’s nomination as “cautiously optimistic,” despite criticism about her qualifications noted in that blog posting. “I have been a librarian at the Library of Congress for 25 years,” the respondent replied. “Although I despise the idea of appointments based on ‘diversity’ criteria, after reading up on Carla Hayden, I’m inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt, for now.”

Library of Congress logo“Under Dr. BillingtonBehrens continues, “LC has become an institution with no clear direction and a demoralized staff. Yes, he implemented some wonderful projects early on, as Mr. Von Spakovsy [author of the original blog posting] states. Oddly, the author omits two of the most significant ones: The Global Legal Information Network, and the Kluge Center for Scholarly Research. However, management of Library operations was completely dysfunctional. We went through a large number of Chief Operating Officers (in title or in fact), and things kept getting worse. What LC needs now is a CEO type (which Hayden is) to clean up the mess. I’m also pleased that she’s a librarian. Billington seemed to devalue traditional library activities: acquisitions, cataloging, and reference. Consequently, we’ve lost, through staff attrition, an enormous amount of expertise in those areas.”

Positive Reactions to Hayden’s Nomination

The reaction to the Hayden nomination, by Congressional democrats in particular, was very positive. Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen noted that she had “enriched countless lives in Maryland and across the country by fighting for equal access to information for all, especially for young minds. I am confident that she will be a strong steward of the Library of Congress and serve the American people as well as she’s served her community in Baltimore.”

The House Administration Committee is charged with oversight of the Library of Congress. Ranking Member Robert A. Brady (D-PA) described Hayden as a “distinguished librarian as well as an experienced and respected administrator. I am hopeful of a swift confirmation by the Senate and await welcoming Dr. Hayden as the 14th Librarian of Congress. I look forward to working with Dr. Hayden to strengthen the crucial services the Library provides to the Congress and the American people.”

Maryland Congressman Steny H. Hoyer stressed herwealth of experience after leading one of the country’s oldest and most distinguished public libraries in Baltimore, the Enoch Pratt Free Library. She will also make history as the first woman and the first African-American to lead the Library of Congress. Her background in both library and museum management, along with her previous tenure as President of the American Library Association, make her an exceptional choice to oversee the Library of Congress during a time of great change as it continues to embrace the adoption of digital technologies to make its collections and legislative data more accessible to the public.”

“I can think of no better public servant for the position of Librarian of Congress than Dr. Carla Hayden. enoch prattFor more than 20 years, Dr. Hayden has served as Chief Executive Officer of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, one of the oldest free public library systems in the United States. Under her leadership, the Pratt Library has transformed from an aging system into a world class, 21st century institution of information and technology,” Maryland Congressman Elijah E. Cummings explained. “A champion for bridging the digital divide, Dr. Hayden has developed library branches throughout Baltimore City where communities can come together to learn, share information and exchange ideas. Dr. Hayden possesses the experience and character to uphold the rich traditions of the Library of Congress, while bringing innovation and creative leadership to one of our nation’s treasures, and I support her historic, groundbreaking nomination.”

Baltimore 9th District Councilman William “Pete” Welch gives ATG this strong endorsement. “Dr. Carla Hayden’s leadership is confident, compassionate, and caring. She instills the value of libraries in Baltimore communities and is in the forefront of library evolution. She is a visionary of library science, particularly with regard to STEM and the local, national and global implications. Just as in the City of Baltimore, Dr. Hayden will bring the Library of Congress to the people.”

Congressional Intransigence Or Something Else?

Duke’s Kevin Smith thinks Hayden’s nomination may prove to be “collateral damage in the ongoing conflict between the White House and Capitol Hill,” or perhaps even indicate a fight over the future of copyright from “Big Content.’ Smith notes that the lukewarm statements of supporCopyright Office logot from RIAA and lack of response from many other quarters may really be examples of the “quiet but firm opposition of the lobbyists from Big Content, who may be hard-pressed to oppose Dr. Hayden openly but will very likely want to sabotage the nomination in order to preserve their regulatory stranglehold over the Copyright Office.”

The leadership change at LOC is marking more than one significant milestone. This is happening at a pivotal time for libraries, information, and digital technologies for libraries everywhere: We face a major crossroads for both the leadership of libraries and the future of copyright. The future of information access and intellectual freedom finds itself in the crosshairs of both politics and business interests in business-as-usual.

As Publisher’s Weekly columnist Andrew Albanese noted last Summer, “this time around the appointment is a pretty big deal. The next librarian of Congress will be the first national librarian appointed in the digital information age. And whoever assumes the role could have a major impact on the future of libraries in America, and on the nation’s information and intellectual property policies for a very, very long time.”

Nancy K. Herther is Librarian for American Studies, Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus.


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