Carla Hayden Nominated to be Librarian of Congress

Carla D. Hayden

Carla D. Hayden


President Barack Obama today announced his intent to nominate Carla D. Hayden as Librarian of Congress.  Hayden would be the first woman and the first African American to hold the position.

Carla Hayden is CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Maryland, a position she has held since 1993. She was Deputy Commissioner and Chief Librarian of the Chicago Public Library from 1991 to 1993 and Assistant Professor for Library and Information Science at the University of Pittsburgh from 1987 to 1991.  In 1995, she was awarded the National Librarian of the Year Award by Library Journal, becoming the first African-American to receive the prestigious award.  Hayden received a B.A. from Roosevelt University and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the Graduate Library School of the University of Chicago.

But of most importance for readers of this blog may be Hayden’s notable service as President of the American Library Association in 2003-2004.  Here is how Wikipedia describes her tenure there:

As ALA President in 2003-2004, Dr. Hayden was vocal in her public opposition to the PATRIOT Act, leading a battle for the protections of library users’ privacy. She especially objected to the special permissions contained in Section 215 of that law, which gave the Justice Department and the FBI the power to access library user records. Hayden often sparred publicly with then-U.S. Attorney GeneralJohn Ashcroft over the language of the law. Ashcroft often ridiculed the library community, and stated that the ALA had been “misled into opposing provisions of the act that make it easier for FBI agents to fish through library records”. Hayden’s response was immediate, stating that the ALA was “deeply concerned that the Attorney General would be so openly contemptuous” (to the library community), while also pointing out that librarians had been monitored and been under FBI surveillance as far back as the McCarthy Era. Hayden asserted that Ashcroft should release information as to the number of libraries that had been visited under the provisions of Section 215

Hayden has spoken out for years about the value of free access to information. Here’s a 2003 profile of Hayden in Ms. Magazine (where she was named Woman of the Year) in which she notes:

“Libraries are a cornerstone of democracy—where information is free and equally available to everyone. People tend to take that for granted,” says Hayden. “And they don’t realize what is at stake when that is put at risk.”

And from that same profile:

Hayden’s stance against the PATRIOT Act is part and parcel of her vision of the library as an integral element of democracy. “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 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.”

Back in 2003, Library Journal editor John Berry wrote of Hayden:

Librarians can take pride in the compelling and immediate response from Hayden to the Ashcroft attack. As a profession, we should also be grateful to those Vermont librarians who got Congressman Bernie Sanders, LJ’s 2003 Politician of the Year (LJ 9/15/03, cover, p. 30-31), to propose amendments to remove the onerous Section 215 from the Patriot Act. Together, they started a movement that has grown so strong that Attorney General Ashcroft finds it necessary not only to tour the nation to defend that law but to ridicule America’s librarians while he does it.

For more background on librarians’ resistance to the PATRIOT Act, see this 2014 article.

Responding to news of the appointment, current ALA President Sari Feldman said:

The President could not have made a better choice. Hats off to President Obama for nominating Dr. Hayden, a professional librarian uniquely positioned with the leadership and management skills and understanding of digital technology to make the Library of Congress the preeminent national library in the world, highly-valued by and serving all Americans as a treasured resource.  We look forward to working closely with her to further librarians’ bedrock principle that all Americans everywhere deserve and must have equitable access to the information that they need to succeed and lead productive lives in the digital age.

Of course, it is possible that the Republicans who control the Senate will refuse to confirm Hayden’s appointment, much as they have declared their unwillingness to even consider any of Obama’s potential nominees to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.  And some are wondering if her vocal opposition to the PATRIOT Act will somehow get in the way of her appointment even though Congress itself has now updated Section 215 after Edward Snowden revealed how it was being abused.  But advocates of academic freedom and civil liberties, as well as librarians, should embrace and fight for this appointment.

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