Speaking for the first time since being nominated to be the 14th Librarian of Congress, Carla D. Hayden called for greater access to the “treasure chest” that is the nation’s library and for modernizing its technological infrastructure to ensure it meets its core responsibilities.
“As I envision the future of this venerable institution, I see it growing its stature as a leader, not only in librarianship but in how people view libraries in general,” the CEO of Baltimore’s public library system told a Senate committee considering her nomination to a 10-year term. “Everyone can have a sense of ownership and pride in this national treasure.”
Polite and measured, Hayden noted the many challenges facing the library, which provides research for Congress, oversees the Copyright Office, and preserves and protects the cultural legacy of the country. But she said it must also “operate seamlessly in a digital world” and be a leader “when their (libraries) very existence is being questioned.”
Nominated in February by President Obama, Hayden was introduced to the Committee on Rules and Administration by Maryland Senators Barbara Mikulski and Benjamin Carden, and former Maryland Sen. Paul Sarbanes, who serves on the board of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, which Hayden has led for 23 years. Together, they portrayed the nominee as a national leader who has the experience and character to help the library to evolve.
Mikulski noted the historic nature of the nomination – Hayden would be the first woman and first African American to hold the position – but she said the nomination was “not only about breaking barriers.”
“Her track record is proof of enough, but when you met her, as you have, you know it’s her character and commitment that really shine forth,” Mikulski said. “This nomination is bittersweet. It will be a great day for the nation but a loss for Baltimore,” she said.
Hayden was asked a few pointed questions but met no resistance from the panel of senators, who focused their attention on the library’s information technology systems. A federal report last year found widespread failure in its technology, causing problems for the Copyright Office and services for disabled readers and wasting millions in taxpayer dollars.
“The next librarian faces significant physical and technological limitations and is struggling to adapt to a new century,’ said Committee Chairman Sen. Roy Blunt before asking how Hayden would proceed with these problems.
Hayden praised her predecessor James H. Billington and said she would build on his legacy by continuing to raise money from private sources and continue the effort to modernize the library’s technology.
“The expansion of the technological capacity will help not only with preserving and maintaining the collections, but also in stabilizing the Copyright Office,” she said, adding that the agency’s new chief information officer had already begun the overhaul.
During the hour-long hearing, Hayden demonstrated polished political skills by declining to take a position on whether the Copyright Office should be liberated from the library and made its own agency, and by sidestepping a question about whether the reports prepared by the Congressional Research Service should be available to the public. Both times, Hayden said she needed to learn more before making up her mind.
Individuals and organizations wishing to submit statements to the committee about the nomination may do so through Friday.