History was made on Wednesday after Carla Hayden was sworn in as the first African American and woman appointed as the librarian of Congress.
Hayden, 64, who was born in Tallahassee, Florida, has served as CEO of Baltimore’s Pratt Library since 1993. President Barack Obama nominated her for the position in February to fill the vacancy left by James Billington, who resigned last September.
As the president said in a press release, the appointment of a black person and a woman was "long overdue."
Since its inception in 1800, all 13 librarians of Congress have been white men. That all changed in July, after the Senate voted 72-14 to confirm Hayden in her new position.
"I will be honored to build on the legacy and accomplishments of my predecessors in this position to be part of a continuing movement to open the the treasure chest that is the Library of Congress even further, and to make it a place that can be found and used by everyone," Hayden said in an official statement.
Hayden has a track record of public service and community outreach. In 1995, Hayden was the first African American to receive the the Library Journal’s Librarian of the Year Award for her work providing an after-school space for Baltimore teens. Last year, as riots unfolded following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, Hayden kept the library’s doors open as "the community’s anchor" amid unrest.
And her ability to adapt to change will serve her well. In addition to running the largest library in the world, overseeing the US Copyright Office, appointing a Poet Laureate each year, and selecting Gershwin Prize honorees for popular song, Hayden will be responsible for pushing the Library of Congress into the 21st century. Unlike former librarians of Congress, Hayden is the first appointed after widespread use of the internet and information technology, which has changed nearly everything, including America’s libraries.
In March 2015, the US Government Accountability Office issued a report documenting the library’s failure to catch up to the today’s technology. While this was partly due to poor strategic planning, GAO also noted "the Library does not have the leadership needed to address these [information technology] management weaknesses."
Hayden’s challenge is heightened by the fact that she’ll have less time in office than her predecessors. Historically, the librarian of Congress position has been a lifetime appointment. However, last November President Obama signed into law a bill calling for a 10-year term limit.
Even under pressure, Hayden is excited to rise to the occasion. According to the Baltimore Sun, she plans to digitize half of the collection, which includes books, recordings, photographs, maps, manuscripts, and sheet music within five years.
But as she gets started in her new role, Hayden looks forward to exploring the collections herself.
"They have the letter that Rosa Parks wrote from jail to her parents," she said the Baltimore Sun. "They have Abraham Lincoln’s life mask — not his death mask, but his life mask. They have the contents of his pocket on the night he was assassinated. I’m looking forward to sharing my discoveries with the public."