Who just became the new Librarian of Congress?

Carla Hayden will be the first woman and the first African-American to hold the office that oversees the federal collection of more than 162 million items.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
The new Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden (r.) acknowledges the cheers and applause from guests in the balcony after taking the oath of office, administered by Chief Justice John Roberts (c.) Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016, in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress in Washington.

With one hand on the Bible that once belonged to Abraham Lincoln and now resides in the Library of Congress, Carla Hayden took an oath to become the 14th Librarian of Congress on Wednesday.

The first woman, as well as the first African-American to fill the role, Ms. Hayden will be replacing retired Reagan appointee James Billington to run what has been described as the closest thing there is to a global library, which provides legal advice and research for the members of Congress. But the Library of Congress is not without its organizational and institutional challenges, which Hayden will inherit along with the prestige.

"I'm looking forward to sharing my discoveries with the public," Hayden told The Baltimore Sun.

Hayden served as the president of the American Library Association and the deputy commissioner of the Chicago Public Library before becoming the chief executive officer of Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library. In Baltimore, Hayden was known for her ability to modernize, digitize, and introduce technology into a library without losing its integrity – all at a library with 22 branches and a staff of more than 500.

"She kept everything good about [the library] but made it more innovative," said best-selling author and Pratt library trustee Laura Lippman, according to The Washington Post.

Hayden's enthusiasm and yen for modernization will be needed in her new job.

Library of Congress has been known as an organization in turmoil ever since March 2015 when a scathing report by the US Government Accountability Office was published detailing poor leadership and outdated technology that was ill-equipped to deal with the 21st-century demands. 

With 162 million items, many of which have not yet been catalogued, and 12,000 more added every day, Hayden has her work cut out for her.

But since the GOA report, the library's newly appointed chief information officer, Bernard A. Barton Jr. has done much to improve the organization's reputation and Hayden plans to work with him on her mission to digitize the library's immense collection.

"He's made a lot of progress ... and there are regular meetings with the Government Accountability Office, so there's close monitoring going on," Hayden told The Washington Post. "He reassured me technology will not be a problem, and I'm holding him to it."

In addition to making the massive collection available to more than the fortunate few who live near Washington, D.C. where the library is located, Hayden will face challenges related to the US Copyright Office, which is part of the Library of Congress but has petitioned the federal government for independence after claiming that technical malfunctions caused by outdated systems impeded its ability to provide adequate customer service.

The thick red tape has taken its toll on the creativity of the library's staff, according to a 2016 survey of federal employees.

But judging by the praise heaped on her by her employees, community members, and fellow librarians, Hayden should have no problem generating an enthusiastic working environment. And she is already planning "coffee with Carla" dates to meet her new staff members. 

"She believes in people. She's a real nurturer and supporter," Mary Hastler, chief executive of the Harford County Public Library in Belcamp, Md., and past president of the Maryland Library Association, told The Washington Post. "She doesn’t give up easy. She really wants change, to make change."

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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