History was made last week when Dr. Carla Hayden, CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library System in Baltimore, was confirmed as the first woman, and the first African American, Librarian of Congress. She is also the first to be confirmed during the internet age. Her predecessor, James H. Billington, retired in September after a twenty-eight year appointment that was marred by criticism over his reluctance to expand the digital aspects of the nation’s Library. President Obama wrote in his nomination of Hayden in February that she has “devoted her career to modernizing libraries so that everyone can participate in today’s digital culture.”
The first Librarian of Congress, John H. Beckley, was appointed by Thomas Jefferson in 1802. The Library of Congress began as a congressional reference library and has since grown into the world’s largest library, with a collection of more than 162 million items. It is also the home of the U.S. Copyright Office.
Hayden will have many responsibilities in her new position. She will administrate the 3,200 employees of the Library of Congress, manage a budget of $620 million, appoint the nation’s Poet Laureate, award the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, and will examine copyright right law in relation to new technologies.
Hayden brings a lifetime of experience to meet the many demands of her office. She has been called a “transformational leader” for her $114 million renovation of the Baltimore Library that moved it into the digital age. She was widely praised for keeping Baltimore’s libraries open during last year’s protests over the death of Freddy Gray. She has also served as chief librarian of the Chicago Public Library and as president of the American Library Association. During the opening statement of her confirmation hearing in April she stated, “Of all the titles I’ve had in my professional career I’m most proud to be called a librarian.”