On October 21, just weeks after she was sworn in as the nation’s 14th librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden stunned observers by removing register of copyrights Maria Pallante. However one feels about that move—and some in the publishing industry have expressed reservations—it sent a clear message: change is coming. And for the Library of Congress, which for years has been criticized for languishing in the digital age, that’s a good thing.
In fact, the moment that she was sworn in, Hayden brought change to the library: she is the first woman and the first African-American to serve in the post, and the first professional librarian to hold it in over 60 years. A highly respected and accomplished librarian, Hayden, a former ALA president, had been the CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore since 1993, and before that worked and taught in Chicago, where she first encountered two young community organizers named Barack and Michelle Obama. She is also the first librarian of Congress to be appointed in the Internet era; her predecessor, James Billington, was a Reagan appointee who took the post in 1987.
Make no mistake, Hayden has the challenge of a lifetime before her as she attempts to remake the Library of Congress. A 2015 report from the Government Accountability Office identified widespread information technology weaknesses. And critics have long complained that Billington’s lack of vision kept the Library of Congress on the sidelines as the digital age unfolded.
Hayden has never been one to shy away from a challenge, however. And those who know her say that President Obama has made a great pick. “Hayden is well equipped to naturally reposition LC as not just a research library but a library in service to the American people,” observed PW contributing editor Brian Kenney in a column this summer. “And the fact that Hayden [is] the first African-American and the first woman to serve as librarian of Congress signals inclusiveness, and makes it clear who belongs in the library as user, library worker, and leader. The importance of that message cannot be overstated.”