At Li­brary of Con­gress, Hay­den writ­ing his­tory

Chief Jus­tice John Roberts is slated to swear in Carla Hay­den on Wed­nes­day to lead the Li­brary of Con­gress, the world’s largest li­brary, cre­ated in 1800 by Pres­i­dent John Adams. Hay­den, 64, the first woman and the first African Amer­i­can to serve as the li

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you bring a dif­fer­ent sen­si­bil­ity or per­spec­tive to this job than your all-white, all-male pre­de­ces­sors?

A: I think be­ing a woman in a fem­i­nized pro­fes­sional who has seen the lead­er­ship of that pro­fes­sion not re­flect the fact that 85% of the work­force is fe­male — that will be quite sig­nif­i­cant for the pro­fes­sion, that the largest li­brary is now be­ing led by a woman.

And the fact that I’m the first African Amer­i­can, that’s some­what more per­sonal in many ways, be­cause I have for years re­searched and looked into the re­la­tion­ship of African Amer­i­cans and lit­er­acy, and the fact that for many years in slav­ery, slaves were for­bid­den to learn to read and they were pun­ished by whip­ping and am­pu­ta­tions and things like that. And peo­ple who were caught teach­ing slaves to read were also pun­ished. So for an African Amer­i­can to be lead­ing the largest sym­bol of knowl­edge in the world is quite mo­men­tous and that re­ally touches me.

Q A Gen­eral Ac­count­ing Of­fice re­port out in March was crit­i­cal of the Li­brary of Con­gress’ fail­ure to adopt and par­tic­i­pate in some of the dig­i­tal projects that other li­braries have done. Should the Li­brary of Con­gress do more?

A: Def­i­nitely, and with the rapid in­flu­ence of tech­nol­ogy on li­braries of all types, of all sizes, it’s crit­i­cal that the Li­brary of Con­gress re­gain its lead­er­ship in show­ing how a li­brary can dig­i­tize col­lec­tions, make things avail­able on­line, and also pre­serve the items as well. ...

Q For in­stance, there’s the Dig­i­tal Pub­lic Li­brary of Amer­ica, a big project that’s in­volved the Smith­so­nian, the Na­tional Ar­chives, other big li­braries — but not the Li­brary of Con­gress.

A: My un­der­stand­ing is that the Li­brary of Con­gress is in ne­go­ti­a­tion to be­come a part­ner for the Dig­i­tal Pub­lic Li­brary of Amer­ica. ... Some of the items from the Li­brary of Con­gress are al­ready avail­able, but to be a full part­ner would be a sig­nif­i­cant step and so I can’t wait to be the li­brar­ian that signs that pa­per. Q You were pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Li­brary As­so­ci­a­tion in 2003-2004 and a leader in press­ing con­cerns about pro­vi­sions of the USA Pa­triot Act that en­larged the govern­ment’s abil­ity to get li­brary records in se­cret. Why did you think that was im­por­tant?

A: That was a time when every­one was con­cerned about na­tional se­cu­rity, and what the li­brary com­mu­nity was con­cerned about was that we make sure there was a bal­ance with se­cu­rity and with per­sonal free­dom to know — that you could have an in­ter­est in a topic and not in­tend to do any­thing. Peo­ple wanted to know about ji­had. ... And we just wanted to make sure that peo­ple had a right to know, and that that right couldn’t be in­fringed upon.

Q The stereo­type of li­brar­i­ans, as you say, is that they’re meek and mild, but you’re say­ing that the re­al­ity of li­brar­i­ans is that they see them­selves as pro­tec­tors of con­sti­tu­tional rights.

A: They are con­cerned that peo­ple are given the free­dom to use ma­te­ri­als and make their own de­ci­sions. They’re con­cerned about cen­sor­ship, that ... as we say the books should bat­tle it out on the shelves. So you should be able to read one thing and then read an­other thing, and there should be no in­fringe­ment on your right to do that.

Q You were CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Li­brary sys­tem in Bal­ti­more, and dur­ing the un­rest that fol­lowed Fred­die Gray’s death last year You kept the li­braries open. Why?

A: That par­tic­u­lar li­brary that was at the epi­cen­ter has been a com­mu­nity op­por­tu­nity cen­ter. And we knew that peo­ple would look to the li­brary that next day to be open. ... We wanted to also show that we weren’t clos­ing our doors when peo­ple needed us the most.


Carla Hay­den, in­com­ing li­brar­ian of Con­gress

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