Thursday, September 15, 2016

New Librarian of Congress Offers a History Lesson in Her Own Right

by Nicholas Fandod Drpy. 25, 3026

Carla D. Hayden was sworn in by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., center, on Wednesday as the new librarian of Congress. Paul D. Ryan, the speaker of the House, was at left. Credit Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press 
 
WASHINGTON — On the night in April 2015 that Baltimore went up in flames, Carla D. Hayden, the city’s chief librarian, was under pressure to board up a neighborhood library branch and wait out the violence triggered by the death of Freddie Gray after being injured in police custody.

But she had other ideas.

“I thought, what would that show?” Dr. Hayden said. “That we’re afraid?”
Instead, as a CVS drugstore across the street was looted and burned, and as the governor of Maryland declared a state of emergency, Dr. Hayden and her staff decided they would open their doors the next morning, welcoming in the weary public.
For Dr. Hayden, who was sworn in on Wednesday as the 14th librarian of Congress, the unrest was the test that clarified her values: Libraries are about far more than books.

“The people of that neighborhood protected that library,” Dr. Hayden said during a recent interview in her new office overlooking Capitol Hill. “There were young men who stood outside. It was such a symbol.”

At 64, Dr. Hayden is the first African-American and the first woman to lead the 216-year-old library, one of the world’s largest, and the nation’s leading repository of knowledge and culture. “To be the head of an institution that’s associated with knowledge and reading and scholarship when slaves were forbidden to learn how to read on punishment of losing limbs, that’s kind of something,’’ she said.
Appointed by President Obama, Dr. Hayden is the first new librarian of Congress since 1987, and brings with her another generation’s ideas about accessibility, technology and the role that libraries play in society.
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Her goal is to open to more Americans the riches of the Library of Congress, which has always balanced mixed loyalties — to members of Congress who look to it for impartial research, to scholars who live in its archives and, finally, to the public.
 

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