A WOULD-BE librarian of Congress is the latest casualty in Congress’s confirmation abdication: Carla D. Hayden was nominated to head the world’s largest library in February, sailed through her confirmation hearing in April and passed committee in a voice vote last month. But the Senate has so far failed to give her an up-or-down vote on the floor. If a vote doesn’t happen before the legislature goes on its summer recess at the end of the week, it might not happen at all.
The next librarian of Congress will serve a 10-year term. That’s not far from the average 16 years a Supreme Court justice spends on the bench, and as with nominees to the court, the Senate has the right to take a hard look at nominees for the librarian post. Yet that right is also a duty. Refusing to grant a vote to any qualified nominee is a neglect of that duty.
Ms. Hayden is qualified. She has a doctorate in library science from the University of Chicago. She has served as president of the American Library Association and on the National Museum and Library Services Board. Now, Ms. Hayden is chief executive of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, where she has fought for equal access to library resources and spearheaded the sort of digitization initiatives the Library of Congress needs: As the production of books, movies and music accelerates and shifts platforms, the centuries-old institution has not developed the technology to keep up.
The next librarian of Congress will have to solve that challenge while answering some difficult questions: Should the library remain responsible for the country’s copyright system, or does the effort require a separate office? Should the library’s research reports remain restricted to members of Congress, or should they officially be made public?
Senators could debate in a substantive way whether Ms. Hayden has the right answers to these questions. They could also take issue if so inclined with aspects of Ms. Hayden’s record, such as the American Library Association’s failure to take a stand against a Cuban crackdown on free libraries during her tenure. But in her confirmation hearing, they did not. Instead, public arguments against Ms. Hayden offensively suggest that, apparently because she is an African American woman, she would turn the library into a “monument to political correctness.” Meanwhile, legislators refuse to vote but offer no arguments at all. The Senate should give Ms. Hayden the consideration she deserves.
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