Carla Hayden, First Woman and African American Nominated to Lead Library of Congress

A long time devotee of making libraries accessible and digital-friendly

Carla Hayden

Image: Carla Hayden

“We’re very excited for Dr. Hayden,” says Roswell Encina, director of communications at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore.

Of course, he’s referring to Carla D. Hayden, whom President Obama has nominated to be the next librarian to lead the Library of Congress. “If she’s confirmed by the Senate, she’ll be the first woman and the first African American to serve as the librarian of Congress,” he says. “It’s an honor to have her work recognized by President Obama.”

[Related: Angels and Unicorns: Black Women-Owned Businesses Grow But Raise Very Little Seed Money]

Hayden has been CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore since 1993. During the city’s recent protests, she kept the libraries open. “It was very evident that people needed, not only information, but a safe place and a trusted place to go,” Hayden says in a video on the White House website. “We became a site for people to actually get food, to get supplies. We opened up our meeting room. It became that community meeting place. People were so relieved to have a safe place to be.” In a statement, President Obama says he and the first lady have known Hayden since she worked at the Chicago Public Library. She was deputy commissioner and chief librarian there 1991–1993. “Dr. Hayden has devoted her career to modernizing libraries so that everyone can participate in today’s digital culture,” Obama says. “She has the proven experience, dedication, and deep knowledge of our nation’s libraries to serve our country well, and that’s why I look forward to working with her in the months ahead. If confirmed, Dr. Hayden would be the first woman and the first African American to hold the position—both of which are long overdue.”

Hayden is a former president of the American Library Association. During her presidency, she was chosen as one of Ms. magazine’s women of the year.

The magazine noted how she knew what was at stake in the face of the USA Patriot Act: “We serve the underserved,” Hayden says. “When libraries fight against the PATRIOT Act, or against [mandatory Internet filters], we’re fighting for the public. Most of the people who use public libraries don’t have the opportunity to buy books at a bookstore or on Amazon.com. What the library does is protect the rights of all people to fully and freely access information and to pursue knowledge without fear of repercussion.”

In January 2010, the president nominated her to the National Museum and Library Services Board; she was confirmed by the Senate six months later.

As librarian, Dr. Hayden would reportedly oversee a staff of about 3,100, an annual budget of nearly $600 million, and a collection of 160 million items.