Former history major makes history as librarian of Congress


— WASHINGTON — Dr. Carla Hayden made history in September when she was sworn in as the first African-American and female librarian of Congress.

But the nomination and swearing-in process was only the beginning for her 10-year term.

Hayden’s plans for the library extend beyond the bookshelves — she wants to bring the contents of the library to people who might not have direct access to the physical building in the nation’s capital.

Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress now houses more than 150 million items ranging from books to photographs to musical instruments and ancient Mesoamerican jade pieces — all of which Hayden hopes to make available to the curious across the globe.

“I’m going to be tweeting out my discoveries and inviting people to join me on that,” Hayden said. Hayden said she also plans to work with the staff on digitizing what she calls the library’s “treasures.”

“Hopefully in a decade, we’ll all be able to reach the Library of Congress at our fingertips,” Hayden said.

In her first few days on the job, Hayden toured the library’s map collection, where she saw the equipment needed to digitize larger paper materials. She also took the chance to see how the library’s virtual visitors are able to manipulate 3-D scans of some of the library’s non-text collection. The idea of libraries as “opportunity centers” is something that Hayden has repeatedly stressed.

Before coming to Washington, Hayden served as the head of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. During the unrest following the death of Freddie Gray in 2015, Hayden made the decision to keep the library open, even though one of the branches was across the street from the CVS that burned on national television after being looted. It was a decision Hayden made because she believed Baltimore needed the communal space during that time.

“The library was still that safe place, that place for opportunity,” Hayden said. “My decision to make sure it was open and available, right in the middle of all of the unrest, the next day, in fact, was really based on what I knew what the community needed and what they expected. And there they were, lined up, the next day to get into that library.”

To mark Constitution Day on September 16, Hayden partnered with Discovery Education, a subsidiary of the Discovery media conglomerate, and some of the library’s experts to participate in a Twitter chat with students in classrooms across the country. It was one more way for Hayden to connect with the people who inspired her career from the beginning.

Hayden began her career as a children’s librarian at what she described as a “small, store-front library” in Chicago.

“It’s just exciting to think about, even now, of ‘Wow, there’s a profession that allows you to marry your love of books and reading with sharing it with others,” Hayden told CNN hours after leading story time at the library’s Young Readers Center.

“As a history major, to be part of making history was humbling, exciting and it also made me think, if I can make history, anybody can make history,” Hayden said.