It seems even a job as uncontroversial as librarian of Congress isn’t immune to congressional infighting.
Librarian of Congress nominee Carla Hayden — the chief executive of the Baltimore public library — breezed through a Senate committee hearing in April, and, within weeks, the committee voted unanimously to recommend that the Senate approve her nomination to be the 14th librarian of Congress.
“The nominee, in my opinion, brings a wealth of experience to the position and it is my hope that this experience will lead the Library of Congress in a way that . . . meets the demands of the 21st century,” Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said of Hayden, who would be the first woman and the first African American to lead the agency.
But not all Republicans agree, and as a result Hayden’s nomination has been held up. There has been no public explanation for the five-week delay, although privately some conservatives have been critical of the positions Hayden took as head of the American Library Association, including her opposition to parts of the Patriot Act and a law requiring libraries to install Internet filters to block pornography. Others decry her lack of academic heft, saying the position is a scholarly one.
The Republican squabble is frustrating Hayden’s supporters.
“It’s confounding that such a highly qualified person who has been unanimously endorsed by the Rules Committee is languishing on the floor,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). “The librarian has an important role to play, and we ought to confirm Carla Hayden as soon as possible.”
Julie Todaro, president of the American Library Association, cited the range of organizations that have endorsed Hayden, including the leading library, technology and entertainment trade associations.
“Any senator who disagrees has the right, opportunity and, frankly, the obligation to do that in public and with specificity on the floor of the Senate as her nomination is brought to a vote this week,” Todaro said.
Senate rules, however, do not require such public disclosure. The Senate allows individual lawmakers to anonymously hold a vote on a nomination, a powerful tactic that can get them the attention of the leader or a compromise on another matter. It has always happened, but it may seem more dramatic in these partisan times. “This is the story of the Senate. Individuals have the capacity to drive the chamber to a halt, even over small matters,” said Sarah Binder, a political science professor at George Washington University. “It is endemic to a Senate that is exceedingly partisan.”
While lawmakers stay mum, conservative bloggers have been vocal. Some have argued for another scholar to be appointed to replace James H. Billington, an author and former professor who retired in September after 28 years in the position. Others suggest that President Obama is more interested in Hayden’s background than her résumé and that her selection is evidence of a quota system.
Heritage Foundation fellow Hans von Spakovsky, who calls Hayden a radical who “fought for pornography to be available in libraries,” has written several articles supporting the idea that the post should go to a first-rank scholar or historian. “The library’s enormous staff . . . already numbers countless credentialed librarians — the institution is hardly in need of another,” he wrote.
“We’ve had these great historians and scholars. It’s the country’s chief cultural institution,” von Spakovsky said Tuesday. “There has been this tradition and I think it’s important to keep.”
In 2008, von Spakovsky was nominated to the Federal Election Commission, but his name was withdrawn in the face of Democratic opposition, led by then-Sen. Barack Obama. He said that experience has nothing to do with his opposition to Hayden. “The idea that it is a vendetta is ridiculous,” he said. “How many nominations has the president made? I’ve only written about a handful.”
The Library of Congress is facing major challenges. An agency that operates on a $620 million budget and has about 3,200 employees, it provides research and legal advice to Congress and operates the Copyright Office. Last year, a government investigation found widespread mismanagement of its technology systems and blamed its leaders for failing to keep pace with rapidly changing technology. The library also faces a shortage of storage space and staff.
Hayden, 63, is credited with modernizing the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, where she has overseen a $112 million renovation of its central branch and the opening of the first new branch in 35 years. She was praised for keeping the library open during the community protests over the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. She earned a PhD from the University of Chicago and has served on the National Museum and Library Services Board since 2010.
She told the Senate committee that upgrading the library’s technology would be a top priority, especially concerning its Copyright Office, which has been plagued with problems.
“The expansion of the technological capacity will help in not only preserving and making the materials and the extensive collection available, but also stabilizing and making the Copyright Office secure,” Hayden said.
As president of the American Library Association in 2003-2004, Hayden was criticized for challenging the requirement that federally funded libraries install Internet filters. Those criticisms surfaced at the hearing in April. Hayden said that improved technology has erased concerns. In 2003, she said, a search for “breast cancer” would be blocked. No longer. “Since that time, technology has improved,” she told the committee. “My library, the Pratt Library, in its state role, has installed filters.”
Hayden also was asked about her standoff with then-Attorney General John Ashcroft over the collection of data about an individual’s library record or computer searches. “We were concerned . . . that interest in a subject would be or could be misinterpreted as intent to do something,” she said. “So interest and intent were not equal.”
The Historically Black Colleges and Universities Library Alliance sent senators a letter Friday urging a prompt confirmation before their summer recess.
“We believe Dr. Hayden’s qualifications to serve as Librarian of Congress are unimpeachable,” wrote the 80 members of the alliance. “Further, we expressly reject — and urge you to do the same — the frankly insulting public suggestion that Dr. Hayden owes her nomination to ‘political correctness.’ ”