For Hay­den, awe and big chal­lenges

Amid tur­moil, she is first woman and first African-Amer­i­can to be li­brar­ian of Con­gress

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Mary Ca­role McCauley

Carla Hay­den can’t wait to open up “the ul­ti­mate trea­sure chest” that is the Li­brary of Con­gress.

“They have Rosa Parks’ pock­et­book,” said Hay­den, who will be sworn in to­day as the 14th li­brar­ian of Con­gress — the first woman and first African-Amer­i­can to fill that po­si­tion.

“They have the let­ter that Rosa Parks wrote from jail to her par­ents. They have Abra­ham Lin­coln’s life mask — not his death mask, but his life mask. They have the con­tents of his pocket on the night he was as­sas­si­nated.

“I’m look­ing for­ward to shar­ing my dis­cov­er­ies with the pub­lic.”

The awe in Hay­den’s voice is pal­pa­ble. But Washington in­sid­ers pre­dict that in­stead of lift­ing the lid on a cache of buried jew­els, the 64-year-old ca­reer li­brar­ian might dis­cover in­stead that she’s just un­locked Pan­dora’s box.

The Li­brary of Con­gress is an or­ga­ni­za­tion in tur­moil. The world’s largest and most pres­ti­gious li­brary has seen its rep­u­ta­tion suf­fer af­ter a with­er­ing re­port was re­leased in March 2015 by the U.S. Govern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice.

Af­ter the133-page re­port con­cluded that “the Li­brary does not have the lead­er­ship needed” to fix its prob­lems, there were pub­lic calls for the res­ig­na­tion of Hay­den’s pre­de­ces­sor, James H. Billing­ton, who had guided the li­brary for 28 years.

The re­port painted a pic­ture of an in­sti­tu­tion in dan­ger of los­ing touch with the pub­lic be­cause it hasn’t kept pace with modern meth­ods of cre­at­ing, shar­ing and pre­serv­ing in­for­ma­tion.

For in­stance, a huge back­log of ma­te­ri­als molder­ing in ware­houses has yet even to be cat­a­loged — let alone dig­i­tized. As a re­sult, most U.S. ci­ti­zens liv­ing far from Washington are de­nied ac­cess to the same cul­tural jew­els that make Hay­den’s eyes light up.

Hay­den said she “doesn’t have an opin­ion” about Billing­ton’s per­for­mance in re­cent years.

“In the 1990s, he was in­stru­men­tal in start­ing some of the first ef­forts at dig­i­tiz­ing, and that’s to his credit,” she said. “I’ve par­tic­i­pated in a num­ber of sym­po­siums at the Li­brary of Con­gress since I’ve been in Bal­ti­more. He’s al­ways been very gra­cious and in fact has ex­tended his hand to me.”

Billing­ton, who re­tired Sept. 30, 2015, de­scribed the re­port’s find­ings as “fun­da­men­tally not true” and added, “The prob­lems were all in the process of be­ing solved. For 19 years we had clean man­age­rial au­dits.”

He said he is look­ing for­ward to at­tend­ing the swear­ing-in cer­e­mony. He is fa­mil­iar with Hay­den’s “fine rep­u­ta­tion for her li­brary ex­per­tise and for her highly re­garded li­brary lead­er­ship in Bal­ti­more.”

He said dis­cus­sion of the GAO re­port is un­seemly, be­cause “this should be a time of re­joic­ing for Dr. Hay­den.”

Hay­den is also fac­ing an in­ter­nal re­volt from the U.S. Copy­right Of­fice. That agency is part of the Li­brary of Con­gress but has pe­ti­tioned fed­eral law­mak­ers to es­tab­lish it as an in­de­pen­dent en­tity.

The copy­right of­fice’s di­rec­tor, Maria Pal­lante, tes­ti­fied be­fore Con­gress in De­cem­ber that her or­ga­ni­za­tion has been ham­pered by the li­brary’s “out­moded, frus­trat­ing and in­ef­fi­cient” tech­nol­ogy sys- tems, which pro­vide “sub­stan­dard ser­vice” to her cus­tomers.

For in­stance, the copy­right of­fice lost on­line ser­vices for nine days in Au­gust 2015 due to an ex­tended sys­tems fail­ure that fol­lowed rou­tine main­te­nance, Pal­lante tes­ti­fied. Cus­tomers world­wide couldn’t check the sta­tus of pend­ing patent ap­pli­ca­tions, com­plete busi­ness trans­ac­tions or ob­tain court-or­dered le­gal doc­u­ments.

Hay­den said she’s with­hold­ing judg­ment for now about whether copy­right and patent func­tions should be split off.

“I’ve met with the reg­is­ter of copy­rights, and I sup­port her con­cerns that the tech­nol­ogy be fully func­tion­ing and mod­ern­ized and ef­fec­tive,” Hay­den said. “I want to work with her and Con­gress and see where it goes.”

Though the pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity of the Li­brary of Con­gress is pro­vid­ing re­search for fed­eral law­mak­ers, it’s widely re­garded as Amer­ica’s li­brary. It’s also a re­source for schol­ars world­wide.

“The Li­brary of Con­gress ab­so­lutely is de facto the global li­brary,” said Julie To­daro, pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Li­brary As­so­ci­a­tion. “Noth­ing else even comes close. It has 162 mil­lion items and 12,000 new ones are added daily. But, there are a huge num­ber of is­sues with pro­vid­ing lead­er­ship to make those re­sources as dig­i­tally ac­ces­si­ble as pos­si­ble.”

Hay­den is tak­ing on a mon­u­men­tal task. But pub­licly, at least, she’s ex­press­ing every con­fi­dence that the li­brary’s prob­lems can be ex­pe­di­tiously reme­died.

Though just one of the GAO’s 31 rec­om­men­da­tions has been fully im­ple­mented, Hay­den said she’s pleased that a fol­low-up re­port re­leased last month “found that there’s been quite a bit of progress al­ready” in the year since Bernard “Bud” Bar­ton, Jr. was ap­pointed as the li­brary’s new chief tech­nol­ogy of­fi­cer — the first per­son to hold that post since 2012.

“The re­port ex­pressed great sat­is­fac­tion with what Bud has al­ready done to make sure most of the items in the ini­tial re­port are be­ing worked on and some are even be­ing fixed,” she said.

“Great sat­is­fac­tion” is per­haps a bit of an over­state­ment.

Joel C. Willemssen, who wrote both GAO re­ports, char­ac­ter­izes the prob­lems af­flict­ing the li­brary’s in­for­ma­tion sys­tems as deep-rooted and com­plex. Some, he said in a phone in­ter­view, will take years to fully ad­dress. But, he’s sat­is­fied that Bar­ton and his staff are work­ing hard to mend the tech­no­log­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture.

“The new li­brar­ian comes in with a per­fect op­por­tu­nity to set a vi­sion for where she wants to go in an elec­tronic world,” he said.

Hay­den’s sup­port­ers say she has the back­bone, po­lit­i­cal savvy and grit to pull off even a turn-around this daunt­ing. This is the woman who as­sumed the top job at the Pratt in 1993 when the li­brary’s rep­u­ta­tion was in a de­cline so steep many feared it wouldn’t re­cover and re­stored it to a po­si­tion of na­tional promi­nence.

There’s a rea­son, they say, that this year For­tune mag­a­zine ranked Hay­den 25th among the world’s 50 great­est lead­ers.

“The Pratt is known as one of the most in­no­va­tive li­brary sys­tems in the coun­try, and that’s be­cause of Carla’s lead­er­ship,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawl­ings-Blake.

“She took over at a time when the way that peo­ple were in­ter­act­ing with books was chang­ing rad­i­cally. But at every turn, she was able to keep the li­brary rel­e­vant, ac­ces­si­ble and cur­rent.”

Hay­den was born in 1952 in Tal­la­has­see, Fla., but grew up in Chicago, where she earned mas­ter’s and doc­toral de­grees from the Univer­sity of Chicago’s Grad­u­ate Li­brary School.

In 1991, when Hay­den be­came se­cond in com­mand of Chicago’s pub­lic li­brary sys­tem, she met a tal­ented and charis­matic cou­ple who would ex­ert a pro­found in­flu- ence on her ca­reer.

Michelle Robin­son worked for for­mer Chicago Mayor Richard M. Da­ley and was re­spon­si­ble for over­see­ing sev­eral ed­u­ca­tion-re­lated agen­cies, in­clud­ing the li­brary sys­tem. Hay­den be­came friendly with Robin­son and the young lawyer she was dat­ing, Barack Obama. A quar­ter-cen­tury later, Obama nom­i­nated Hay­den as li­brar­ian of Con­gress.

“I came to Bal­ti­more right as they were get­ting mar­ried,” Hay­den said, “so I didn’t get to go to the wed­ding. Wekept in touch in the early years, but we were all busy.”

Long­time Pratt em­ployee Deb­o­rah Tay­lor was im­pressed with her new boss’ brav­ery. “When she came here, the Pratt was not in great shape,” said Tay­lor, co­or­di­na­tor of school and stu­dent ser­vices for the Pratt. Bud­getary short­falls re­sulted in the cen­tral li­brary be­ing closed on Fri­days while neigh­bor­hood li­braries shut on Satur­days.

Hay­den made the dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion to close seven branches of the 28-li­brary sys­tem. “She had to with­stand lots of crit­i­cism from the pub­lic and the com­mu­ni­ties,” Tay­lor said.

Though Hay­den can be fiery when nec­es­sary, To­daro said her pro­pos­als are based on metic­u­lously com­piled data. Tay­lor de­scribed Hay­den as com­bin­ing cool logic with per­sonal warmth.

“One thing Carla does re­ally well is build re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple,” Tay­lor said, “whether it’s the di­rec­tors of other li­braries or leg­is­la­tors or our cus­tomers.”

Those skills came in handy when Hay­den em­barked on two ma­jor build­ing projects: the $16 mil­lion South­east An­chor Li­brary, which in 2007 be­came the first newly built li­brary in Bal­ti­more in 35 years, and the $115 mil­lion ren­o­va­tion of the cen­tral li­brary that broke ground in June.

The lat­ter was a project that Hay­den had worked on for two decades, and it in­volved per­suad­ing leg­is­la­tors that the over­haul of the 1933 Cathe­dral Street land­mark ben­e­fited not just Bal­ti­more­ans, but down­state con­stituents.

“She was able to be per­sua­sive in an en­vi­ron­ment not al­ways look­ing to be sup­port­ive of projects that take place in Bal­ti­more,” Rawl­ings-Blake said. “To say that she’s leav­ing the Pratt in a bet­ter con­di­tion than she found it is a gross un­der­state­ment.”

To­daro said that Hay­den “is an in­cred­i­ble leader of staff.” She cited the much-praised de­ci­sion to keep the Pratt’s Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue branch open dur­ing the 2015 un­rest sparked by the death of Fred­die Gray, though the li­brary is lo­cated across the street from the CVS store that was looted and torched.

“When vi­o­lence broke out, Carla wasn’t any­where near Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue,” To­daro said. “She went home and packed a bag and went right over. There are times when it’s im­per­a­tive to lead from the front lines, and she knew this was one of them.”

Chances are that Hay­den al­ready has plans for the Li­brary of Con­gress, though she’s re­luc­tant to pro­vide many specifics be­fore her first day of work.

“Ex­pand­ing ac­cess is my num­ber one con­cern,” she said.

In the next five years, she’d like to make sure that at least half of the li­brary’s 162 mil­lion items are dig­i­tized. She wants the li­brary to put on more live per­for­mances and broad­casts. She hopes to mount trav­el­ing ex­hibits that will tour Amer­ica and tie in with ed­u­ca­tional pro­gram­ming for schoolkids.

She knows these ini­tia­tives will take money — lots of money — that the li­brary doesn’t have. She can’t wait to be­gin to find it.

“The pos­si­bil­i­ties are al­most end­less when you’re deal­ing with a col­lec­tion this rich,” she said. “Who knew that be­ing a li­brar­ian would lead to all this?”

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