Carla Hayden: The First Female Librarian of Congress


Last July, Carla Hayden received official confirmation as the 14th United States Librarian of Congress. This happened following an April confirmation hearing that she passed with flying colors. The United States Senate authenticated her approval with a 74-18 vote. In other words, almost everyone believed that she was the right for this position.

Hayden is also not only the first woman to hold this particular position but the first African-American person to do so as well. Despite the fact that over 80% of all librarians in America are women, only white men have held the position of Librarian of Congress since the position was created over two hundred years ago.


Image courtesy of The Washington Post

Who Is Carla Hayden?

Born in Tallahassee, Florida in August of 1952, she showed a marked interest in reading, literature, and history from an early age. Naturally, she also grew up loving libraries. She made the decision to become a professional librarian after graduating from Roosevelt University and earned both her master’s and her doctorate in library science from the University of Chicago Graduate Library School.

She held several positions in the field over the course of her early career. These included a teaching position as the assistant professor of library science at the University of Pittsburgh and a long stint as a children’s librarian at the Chicago Public Library.

In 2003, she became the president of the American Library Association. During this time, Hayden very vocally opposed the Patriot Act and worked tirelessly to protect the privacy of America’s library users. Passionately pursuing her work with various outreach programs, she believed strongly in the importance of equal access for all people when it comes to education and information.

On February 24, 2016, President Barack Obama officially nominated Hayden for Librarian of Congress. Following her nomination, over 140 different academic, publishing, and educational organizations signed a letter of support recommending her for the position. She won the position in July of 2016, and her swearing-in ceremony occurred on September 14, 2016.

In addition to being the first African-American and the first woman to hold the position, Hayden is also notable for being among the few professional librarians to hold the position. Most Librarians of Congress have been scholars or historians.


A Look at Hayden’s Goals as Librarian of Congress

Saying that Carla Hayden has a pretty big job ahead of her as Librarian of Congress is really quite the understatement. She is the first Librarian of Congress to be appointed since widespread internet access became the norm. Hayden’s agenda includes numerous improvements to the Library’s efforts in the areas of IT and digitization. Her professional goals going forward include:
  • Early efforts that focus on building and retaining a talented staff to help her meet her goals.
  • Making sure at least 50% of the library’s massive 162 million item catalog is digitized. A special focus will be placed on rare or noteworthy collections.
  • Organizing events such as traveling exhibits, live performances, and broadcasts designed to tie in with various educational programs for schoolchildren.
  • Providing a style of visionary leadership that will mirror and keep step with the rapidly changing face of today’s information environment.
  • Reaching out to people outside of Washington D.C., especially those who are most often overlooked when it comes to information and education. Examples include people in remote rural areas and people with visual disabilities.
  • Improving the infrastructure and overall tech capacity of the Library of Congress.
  • Determining whether or not the United States Copyright Office should become independent from the Library of Congress. (It is currently overseen by it.)

Thanks to her boundless experience and unique level of expertise when it comes to library science, we have no doubt that Carla Hayden will be able to accomplish all of those things and then some. This March, honor Carla Hayden by visiting your library, reading up on the contributions of women in history, and expanding your horizons when it comes to information.

Don’t forget to research women of note in your own region or area as well. After all, no study of American history can be considered complete without the inclusion of local studies!