After a dramatic 24 hours, the Senate on July 13 confirmed Carla Hayden as the nation’s 14th librarian of Congress. The final vote was 74-18. But while the final margin of victory reflected Hayden’s broad bipartisan support, her confirmation almost didn’t happen.
On July 12, it was revealed that a group of Senate Republicans had placed an anonymous hold on Hayden’s nomination, threatening to deny her a final up-or-down confirmation vote and possibly derail her nomination altogether. Though such actions in the Senate have become common in recent years, the hold was a stunning turn of events for Hayden, who had sailed through her April 20 Senate hearing, and won unanimous approval from the Senate Rules Committee on June 9.
But news of the hold quickly generated a flurry of calls and petitions to legislators, and by midday on July 13 Hayden’s nomination was trending nationally on Twitter.
With vocal public support for a vote building, and with Senate Democrats prepared to take the floor in support of a vote for Hayden, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell opted to ignore the anonymous hold on Hayden’s nomination (which is the leader’s option). He called for 15 minutes of debate, followed by a final vote on Hayden’s nomination. At that point, any of the anonymous objectors could have stopped the vote simply by coming forward with a formal objection—although in that case, they would no longer be anonymous. But none did, and Hayden was easily confirmed.
In the final tally, all 18 Senators voting against Hayden were Republican. Eight Senators did not vote, also all Republicans, with one exception: Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (still listed as a registered Independent), who was at an outside event.
A highly respected and accomplished librarian, Hayden, CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore since 1993, is the first woman and the first African-American to serve as librarian of Congress. She is also the first professional librarian to hold the office in over 60 years.
In a statement, officials at the American Library Association said they were “elated” with Hayden’s appointment. “There is no doubt that Dr. Hayden will have a positive impact by leading efforts to establish a more modern approach to serving members of Congress, researchers and the public at large,” ALA president Julie Todaro said.
A ‘New Normal’ for New York Libraries?
In a story published over the Fourth of July holiday, the New York Times reported something librarians have known for some time: “Far from becoming irrelevant in the digital age, libraries in New York City and around the nation are thriving.” While that may not be breaking news for librarians, it is still good news to see a major publication like the Times catching on to what’s happening in today’s libraries. For New Yorkers, however, the news is even better—local politicians have also caught on.
In a June email to library cardholders, NYPL president Tony Marx reported that New York City officials have agreed to “baseline” a 2016 funding increase for New York libraries. That means that a hard-won $43 million budget increase for libraries in the fiscal-year 2016 budget has not only been carried forward for the 2017 fiscal year (which began July 1), but will now be the starting point for future budget discussions. “You did that,” Marx told library supporters in his email, noting that New York lawmakers had gotten some “80,000 letters, 3,300 personal stories, dozens of video testimonials [and] too many tweets to count” detailing how libraries benefit their communities.
The budget boost will benefit all three of New York’s independent library systems: the New York Public Library (which serves Manhattan and the Bronx), the Brooklyn Public Library, and the Queens Public Library. In a joint statement on behalf of all three systems, library officials said the budget increase was “historic.”
The good news on the budget is a far cry from where New York libraries were just a few years ago, when funding cuts had, in the words of New York City Council Member Andy King, left New York libraries “on life support.” And the influx of resources has already had a noticeable impact. The Times reported that the Queens Public Library has expanded hours, hired 129 new staff members, “and spent more than $2.6 million on new books,” including e-books. The Brooklyn Public Library has hired 95 new staff members and has also added resources.
“More librarians in branches, six-day service for all of the city’s libraries and many more evening and Sunday hours, as well as expanded educational opportunities for all ages,” Marx told library users in his email. “This is our new normal.”
NYPL’s Revamped Donnell Library Opens
In other New York library news, the 53rd Street branch of the New York Public Library—the former Donnell Library Center—has officially reopened. Located on prime midtown real estate, the former Donnell Library space was sold in 2007 to developers and closed in 2008 for construction. The new branch library occupies a fraction of the Donnell Library’s old space, in the basement of what is now the Baccarat Hotel.
As a reminder of the NYPL’s more troubled recent past, the library’s June 27 opening ceremony was attended not only by library and city officials, but by protesters as well, organized in part by the Committee to Save the NYPL, the group that formed in 2012 to oppose a controversial NYPL proposal that sought to sell off some of the library’s most valuable real estate, and to radically redesign and repurpose the iconic main library on 42nd Street. The battle over the plan was chronicled in Nation writer Scott Sherman’s 2015 book, Patience and Fortitude: Power, Real Estate, and the Fight to Save a Public Library (Melville House). The plan was ultimately abandoned after a public outcry, but not before the sale of the Donnell Library was completed.
Make no mistake, the new 53rd Street Library library looks great. It features state-of-the-art program spaces, a Children’s Room and Teen Zone, and 68 computer stations. Its sleek, modern design and layout reflects the latest trends in the use of library buildings, with more open space dedicated to socializing. The Wall Street Journal even observed that the library “might be mistaken for a SoHo boutique, or maybe even an Apple store.”
Regardless of how beautifully the new space is designed, however, the protesters at the opening, and more than a few reviews have made a solid point: there is certainly a lot less of it. The 53rd Street branch now occupies about 28,000 square feet, compared to the former Donnell’s 97,000 square feet, and it houses a much smaller book collection.
In U.K., a Major Boost for Open Access
On July 6, the U.K.-based Wellcome Trust announced that it would partner with “open science” publisher F1000 Research to launch its own open-access publishing platform, sometime this fall. In a post on the Wellcome Trust website, Robert Kiley, head of Wellcome’s digital-services division, said the unprecedented move was meant to encourage “disruptive innovation” in scholarly communication.
“We believe we can do more to improve the way research is communicated,” Kiley wrote. “We can make the process faster and more transparent, and make it easier for researchers to provide information that supports reproducibility.”
Notably, while commercial scholarly publishers frequently hold out their editorial departments and peer-review processes as a major value add, the Wellcome/F1000 platform won’t have a traditional editorial function. According to Kiley, every submission that passes “a series of objective checks” will be published, with “transparent” peer review coming after publication, from readers. “We believe this will encourage constructive feedback from experts focused on helping the authors improve their work,” Kiley explained, “rather than on making an editorial decision to accept or reject an article.”
The world’s second largest charitable foundation (with a roughly £18 billion endowment), the Wellcome Trust has long supported open access, most notably by requiring that Wellcome-funded research be made publicly available in open-access repositories as a condition of funding. But this latest move makes a broader statement about where Wellcome believes science publishing must go.
“We hope that other funders will follow our lead,” Kiley wrote. “We also hope that, over time, funder-specific platforms will merge into a single international platform that’s open to all researchers.”
An Overhaul for arXiv?
Users of the pioneering preprint service arXiv have a message for the repository’s managers: don’t go changing. In June, Nature.com reported that arXiv administrators were preparing to raise funds to improve the popular online archive.
But the report also noted that an astounding 36,000 scientists responded to a recent survey undertaken by arXiv administrators about how the service might improve—and 95% of respondents said that they were satisfied with Arxiv, with most adding that they were happy to keep it “just the way it is.”
In 2001, the Cornell University Library took over financial and administrative responsibilities for arXiv, which was First developed by Paul Ginsparg at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1991 as a repository for early drafts of physics research papers. Over its 25-year history, the repository has grown steadily. It now hosts and makes available a range of scientific papers in a number of related disciplines, including computer science and mathematics. It currently holds more than 1.1 million freely accessible papers and in 2105 served up nearly 139 million downloads.
High user satisfaction is great news, of course. But arXiv program director Oya Rieger told Nature.com that, regardless, the platform’s code still needs updating, and that scientists and librarians are organizing a plan that would raise up to $3 million to bring it up to date.