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Obama Nominates New Librarian of Congress

Yesterday, Obama announced his nomination for the next Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden. If elected, Hayden would replace tenured librarian James H. Billington, who’s been keeping his eyes on the books for the past 28 years.

Currently, Hayden is CEO of the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore, where the city has seen violent turmoil and civil unrest intensify over the past year. Even in the midst of the city’s social-political tug-of-war, Hayden has remained committed to keeping the Library open—a move that has caught the admiring eye of the Obama Administration.

Image courtesy of NBC News

In addition to her work with the Enoch Pratt Library, Hayden has worked in the Chicago Public Library as Deputy Commissioner and Chief Librarian, served as former president of the American Library Association, and sat on the board of the National Museum and Library Services. Our point: she’s an exceptionally qualified bookworm.

There’s much more to the job than standing at a counter with glasses tipped off the brim of her nose. Although an unfamiliar title to many of us, the Congressional Librarian is responsible for appointing staff (like the Poet Laureate), overseeing nearly 3,100 employees, managing congressional relations and events, balancing a $600 million annual budget, and keeping tabs on a 106-million item collection… just to name a few.

If elected, she would set a new precedent as a Librarian – not just because she would be the first female, African American Librarian of Congress (yay!) – but for her all-encompassing philosophy about knowledge. In today’s highly digital culture, Hayden recognizes the need to modernize and make information more accessible to all, not just to the “elite.” Under Billington, the number of online texts available was a meagre fraction compared to the massive inventory, and Hayden seeks to grow the number of online texts exponentially. According to Hayden, her position would shift “how people view the future of libraries and what a national library can be. It’s inclusive. It can be part of everyone’s story.”

National narrative for all? We can dig it.

Although she has Obama’s vote, Hayden won’t take up the position unless she gets the congressional stamp of approval. Until then, stay tuned for more updates from The Reading Room.