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The Next Librarian of Congress: History Has Its Eyes on Her
Posted On April 26, 2016
In February 2016, President Barack Obama nominated Carla D. Hayden, CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, for the open Librarian of Congress position—which has been temporarily filled by David S. Mao after James H. Billington retired in September 2015.

In the library’s 216-year history, there have been only 13 Librarians of Congress, who could hold the position for life. Recent legislation limited the librarian’s service to a renewable term of 10 years. None of these former librarians was an actual librarian, although two did have library experience. All were men. This is the first time that a true librarian and a woman has been nominated for this prestigious and challenging job, and Hayden more than meets the requirements both in experience and in educational background: She has an M.A. and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago’s Graduate Library School. President Obama said in the press release announcing her nomination, “Dr. Hayden has devoted her career to modernizing libraries so that everyone can participate in today’s digital culture.” And library groups have publicly championed her library experience and technological capabilities.

It Must Be Nice, It Must Be Nice, to Have Senators on Her Side

The first step to confirming Hayden’s nomination is approval by the U.S. Senate. This process began on April 20, with a hearing held by the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration. Hosted by the chairman, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the hearing began with the two current senators from Maryland, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D), and former Maryland senator Paul Sarbanes (D), who introduced Hayden. They praised her and her qualifications for the position, citing her competence, commitment, integrity, and proven leadership during her stellar career, especially during her 23 years at the Enoch Pratt Free Library. While there, she spearheaded the opening or updating of eight new branches and helped create Sailor, “a project of Maryland’s public libraries that provides broadband Internet access for public libraries, schools and local government in Maryland, and an extensive collection of research databases for the use of Maryland public library customers,” thereby making Enoch Pratt the first public library in the state to provide internet access.

She Wants to Be in the Room Where IT (and Copyright) Happens

Next, other participating senators asked questions. Their topics varied, but copyright and the IT infrastructure at both the Library of Congress and the U.S. Copyright Office dominated the conversation. At the forefront of these issues is a March 2015 report, in which the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) called for the Copyright Office to address organizational and technical challenges. It recommends that the Copyright Office “(1) develop key information to support proposed initiatives for improving its IT environment and submit them to the Library’s IT investment review board for review, and (2) develop an IT strategic plan that is aligned with the Library’s strategic planning efforts.”

Moreover, in a related report released in December 2015, the GAO “recommended that the Library of Congress take 31 actions to address weaknesses in six IT management-related areas and that the Copyright Office, among other things, develop an IT strategic plan.” As a first step in beginning this technological transformation, in September 2015, the library hired Bernard A. Barton Jr. as its first CIO since 2012. Barton was previously CIO at the Defense Technical Information Center, which is essentially the Department of Defense’s library. When asked about what she would do to remedy the IT deficiencies, Hayden referred to Barton and her faith in his ability to help fix the issues and create a solid IT infrastructure and strategy.

Perhaps the most significant question was asked by Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who stated emphatically that “copyright is one of the most important jobs before you.” He asked if Hayden agreed with the recommendations of several congressional hearings that have advised that the “Copyright Office needs to be ‘spun out’ from under the Library of Congress, that its being lodged in the Library [makes it] a historical artifact, and that given its importance in our society of intellectual property, should have own separate existence and its own presidentially appointed director and its own office.”

Hayden neither supported nor opposed the idea of separating the office from the library. She said that “in terms of the independence of the office itself, I have heard quite a few proposals, and they all get back to the core concern and one that I share, that the Copyright Office should be fully functional and should have its independence to carry out its mandates to protect the creators of content. As I’ve mentioned earlier, my father was a recording artist, and as a child, I recall going into a mall and hearing snippets of his music, so I know how vital it is that artists and creators of content get to register their works and even challenge the use of their works in a timely and efficient fashion. So, if confirmed, I would take special interest in making sure that the office is able to perform its functions in a way that will protect the people that it serves, that is the creations and the creators of content.”

Hayden said she did not want to comment at this time on whether the office and library should part ways, but if that happens, she would want to first make sure that the office had everything it needed, and she would work with Congress to make sure that would happen. It was apparent that she would not make any rash decisions, but instead would want to take time to decide the best solution for the two entities.

When asked what her biggest priorities and challenges would be as Librarian of Congress, Hayden listed “the technology infrastructure and securing that base for all operations, including the special needs of the Copyright Office and the Congressional Research Service. … [A]lso to bring the leadership team and the wonderful staff members at the library together with a shared vision, and to work as a team together to get everyone rolling in the same direction, with the same goals in mind.”

She’s Going to Need Congressional Approval … But Does She Have the Votes?

Throughout the hearing, Hayden responded in a polished and professional manner, impressing attendees with her poise and knowledge of the ins and outs of libraries. At one point, she mentioned that of all the titles she has had in her professional career, “I am most proud to be called a librarian. It would be my honor to have the opportunity to be the Librarian.”

Committee chairman Blunt concluded the hearing with a reminder that written testimony and comments from members of the committee are due by April 27, and nonmembers’ testimonies need to be submitted by May 7.

The day after the hearing, the American Library Association (ALA) reinforced its backing of Hayden’s nomination in a letter of support addressed to Blunt, Schumer, and other members of the Committee on Rules and Administration. It features an endorsement by more than 140 national nonprofit and library groups, schools, and academic libraries that states, “[T]he Library of Congress has never needed more the unique combination of character, acumen and humanity that Dr. Carla Hayden is so professionally, intellectually and personally qualified to offer that great institution. We urge her earliest possible approval by the Rules Committee and rapid confirmation by the Senate.”

Hayden is truly a brilliant and inspiring choice for the next Librarian of Congress, one who is well-suited to ensuring the future success and growth of the institution and its role and responsibilities as a true national library.

Corilee Christou is president of C2 Consulting, a firm that specializes in leveraging and licensing digital content of all types to traditional and internet-based companies using new and innovative business models.

Email Corilee Christou

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