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2015 when a scathing report by the US Government Accountability Office was published detailing poor leadership and outdated technology that was ill-equipped to deal with the 21st-century demands.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.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.