In an amicable session on April 20, Librarian of Congress nominee Carla D. Hayden testified at a Senate Committee on Rules and Administration hearing in Washington, DC. Hayden, who was nominated by President Barack Obama in February to succeed former Librarian James Billington, offered her personal testimony and answered questions on a range of issues concerning the Library of Congress (LC). The room was packed with enthusiastic supporters, including members of the American Library Association (ALA), of which Hayden was president from 2003–04; elected officials; a large contingent from Maryland, where Hayden currently serves as a CEO of Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library (EPFL); and Hayden’s mother.
If appointed as the 14th Librarian of Congress, Hayden would be the first woman and the first African American to serve in the role. She would also be the first Librarian nominated under the recently instituted term cap, which requires the Librarian to be reappointed or replaced every ten years, and only the third Librarian to have library experience prior to the appointment.
Hayden was introduced by three Maryland Democratic Senators: Barbara Mikulski and Benjamin Cardin, who first wrote to the White House in October asking President Obama to consider nominating Hayden, and Sen. Emeritus Paul S. Sarbanes, who serves on the EPFL board of trustees and board of directors. Senator Mikulski expressed appreciation for the hearing being scheduled within a few months of President Obama’s announcement of his intent, and spoke warmly of Hayden’s 23-year tenure at EPFL, calling the nomination “bittersweet…. A great, great gain for the nation, but a loss for Baltimore.” Mikulski also mentioned Hayden’s role in keeping EPFL open during the 2015 protests following the death of Freddie Gray.
Senator Cardin noted that the Sunday after the hearing would mark the 216th anniversary of EPFL’s founding in 1800. Cardin also pointed out that Hayden also oversees Maryland’s State Library Resource Center (housed in the EPFL Central Library), experience that would serve her well as Librarian of Congress. Hayden, he stated, “has an outstanding resume, she has experience, she has integrity, she has the proven leadership, she’s delivered results.”
Sarbanes’s service on the EPFL board of trustees has let him see Hayden at work, he said. He described her as an “extraordinarily able, dedicated, committed person,” and stated that “the nation will be extremely well served” by her nomination to the post.
Support was voiced from outside of Hayden’s home state as well. Committee chair Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) mentioned Hayden’s work with Scott Bonner, director of Ferguson Municipal Public Library, MO (the 2015 Gale/LJ Library of the Year), on the role of libraries during times of social unrest.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) added his enthusiasm, stating, “I believe the president has put forth a candidate capable of meeting the Library’s many challenges, and extending its reach beyond its marble halls, to further enrich the lives of all Americans. Dr Hayden, I believe you are the right person to pursue a bold vision of the library’s future.”
A PROUD LIBRARIAN
Hayden, who also served as library services coordinator for Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry from 1982–87 and assistant professor for library and information science at the University of Pittsburgh from 1987–91, led her testimony with a tribute to her field: “Of all the titles I’ve had in my professional career, I am most proud to be called a librarian.” She recalled the significance of checking out her first library book—Bright April, the story of a young African American girl—with the help of her mother, and the collection of books by and about African Americans kept by a colleague of her grandfather’s. “These experiences and more were the start of my love of books and my steps into libraries,” she said. She also spoke of her respect for the work of LC and the U.S. Copyright Office, which is part of LC. “Coming from a family of musicians and artists, I understand the blood, sweat, and soul that goes into the creative process, and I look forward to working with Congress to ensure a fully functional copyright office that supports the community it serves.”
Hayden described her vision of students and libraries across the country having access to LC’s resources. “I would be honored to be part of the legacy and accomplishments of my predecessors in this position to be part of a continuing movement to open the treasure chest that is the Library of Congress.”
During the question and answer period, Hayden fielded questions from the senators ranging from her experience at EPFL to thoughts on the future of LC.
LC recently drew the scrutiny of a Government Accountability Office report for its lack of information technology (IT) oversight and inadequate responses to contemporary copyright issues, and several of the afternoon’s questions revolved around Hayden’s plans to ensure LC’s technological capacity. Making sure that the Library has the technology infrastructure to accomplish its goals would be a high priority, she said, and agreed it would be one of the Library’s biggest challenges as well. “One of the management opportunities,” she said, “is to get everyone rowing in the same direction.” She expressed strong confidence in LC’s newly appointed permanent chief information officer, Bernard Barton.
Hayden spoke passionately about using technology to modernize the collection and digitize its assets, particularly bringing resources to rural areas, explaining, “users will not need to be in Washington, DC. Everyone will have a sense of ownership and pride in this national treasure.” She envisioned exhibits of primary-source materials as well that could travel to local venues around the country.
In addition, Hayden stated her intent to work with National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) to make sure digitized materials are widely available and accessible in formats that will allow people with visual disabilities to access them.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), whose purview as subcommittee chair of the legislative branch on the appropriations committee includes LC, brought up the potentially contentious issue of Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports and whether they should be made publicly available. CRS reports, which cover matters from legislative proposals to foreign policy, are currently posted internally for members of Congress and their staff, but are not distributed directly to the public. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who has joined with Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and John McCain (R-AZ) to cosponsor the Equal Access to Congressional Research Service Reports Act (S. 2639), noted that these reports are taxpayer-funded; the purpose of the bill would be to ensure that they are available to Americans on a free and accessible platform.
Hayden did not offer a firm position on the subject, but did say that she would “look forward to the opportunity to study and work with Congress on the core staffing and other aspects of making parts of the reports available…without stepping over the line in terms of how much public service you provide.”
COPYRIGHT AND PRIVACY
LC’s management of the U.S. Copyright Office was a major area of focus as well. When asked by Sen. Angus King (I-ME) whether she thought the Copyright Office should be moved out of LC’s purview, Hayden said that she was unsure if spinning off the Office “would be the only way to accomplish what we all want,” but added that she intended to make sure the Office would have all it needed to move forward. “The Copyright Office should be fully functional and should have the independence to carry out its mandates to protect creators of content,” she said. Hayden spoke up as well for copyright education efforts for digital natives, starting with schoolchildren as young as second or third grade. “They should be aware of what the ‘C’ means—it should mean ‘caution.’”
Prompted by Senator Blunt, Hayden also discussed, briefly, her earlier stances on library security issues such as the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) and the Patriot Act during her term as ALA president. At the time of her opposition to CIPA, she explained—in 2003—library filtering technology was still in its early stages, and would have also prohibited access to sites with important health resources, such as breast cancer information. However, Hayden emphasized, pornography has no place in the library, and she recommended space design solutions to prevent exposing children to offensive material.
When the Patriot Act was instituted, Hayden added, “It was a time of great apprehension and…the library community was just very concerned that in the quest for security, and making sure that we were all safe, that the public’s rights were also considered as well.” She noted that since that time, there have been a number of reforms to the Patriot Act which address many of the concerns raised by librarians.
WIDESPREAD FAN BASE
More than 140 library, publishing, educational, and academic organizations nationwide—including every state library association but Arkansas—signed a letter of support that stated in part, “For the first time in…two centuries, Congress has an opportunity to equip the Library and the nation with the unique combination of professional skills and sensibilities that Dr. Hayden will bring to the post.” The letter added, “The Library of Congress has never more needed the unique combination of character, acumen, and humanity that Dr. Carla Hayden is so professionally, intellectually, and personally qualified to offer that great institution. We urge her earliest possible approval by the Rules Committee and rapid confirmation by the Senate.” (Editor’s note: Procedures of the Arkansas Library Association required that their board members vote in person on affixing their name to documents of this kind, and they were unable to meet in time to affix their signature to the letter. Their approval was authorized on Friday, April 22, and Arkansas’s signature added retroactively.)
The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) issued a statement of its own urging the Senate to confirm Hayden.
“I think she did a superlative job at the hearing,” ALA president Sari Feldman told LJ. “She has the foundational skills to be able to answer the questions, she has deep knowledge of the profession and the Library of Congress, and she has a clear vision for success, and what it will look like when the Library of Congress truly embraces technology and advances the value to the American people. I thought that the chairman, the ranking member, and many members of the Rules Committee really recognized that putting a librarian like Carla Hayden at the helm of the Library of Congress would be the right decision.”
While she didn’t want to sound a premature victory, Feldman said, “It seems like she had a lot of support from both sides of the aisle.” When asked whether Hayden’s approval process could potentially suffer the same obstructions as President Obama’s recent nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, The Hill reported, Blunt told reporters that there was no reason for comparison, stating, “I think this nomination is on a separate track.”
Feldman added, “Many of us will be in Washington on May 2 for National Legislative Day, and it will be a great opportunity to voice our support for Dr. Hayden.”
Hayden was gracious throughout her testimony and clearly appreciative, both of the encouragement voiced by those in the room and those who signed her letter of support, and of the amicability of the hearing. “As a career librarian,” Hayden said at the hearing’s close, “I must tell you—this is one of the highest honors.”
The committee will accept written testimony from outside parties through Friday, April 22, and will keep the record open for members of the committee to submit questions for Hayden until Wednesday, May 4. The nomination will then go to a floor vote on the appointment, most likely before the summer recess.