Librarian of Congress nominee Carla Hayden has smooth sailing at Senate confirmation hearing


Dr. Carla Hayden, President Obama’s nominee to be the 14th Librarian of Congress, faced a Senate confirmation hearing on April 20 and seems to have passed with flying colors. Senators from both sides of the partisan aisle, including Republican Roy Blunt and Democrat Chuck Schumer, praised her qualifications.

Hayden would be the first Librarian of Congress appointed for a specific term of ten years, though she could be reappointed at the end of the term. Her predecessors James H. Billington and Daniel Boorstein served for 28 and 12 years, respectively. She would also be the first Librarian of Congress in 40 years to be an actual professional librarian, rather than merely a scholar. She would also be the first female and first African-American Librarian of Congress—that’s an impressive number of ‘firsts’ for one person.

Hayden has stated that she intends to help bring the Library of Congress into the digital age, expanding access for the blind and disabled and for Americans in the rest of the country who might never have the chance to visit the Library of Congress in person. She also plans to improve the copyright registration system, which is hamstrung by aging equipment, and said that it was crucial to educate younger generations on how copyright works.

Hayden’s record includes helping modernize Baltimore’s Pratt Library and expand Internet access to all Maryland citizens. She has also served as President of the American Library Association, during which time she objected to the Children’s Online Protection Act in 2000 on the grounds that it could cut children off from viewing important health information, such as breast cancer research. She also sparred with then-Attorney General John Ashcroft over the Patriot Act in 2003. Pratt objected to permitting law enforcement to search patron lending records to identify potential terrorists.

I believe it will be good for the Library of Congress and the Copyright Office to have a Librarian in charge who has been steeped in the information technology controversies of the last twenty years. It’s possible that she might take a more sympathetic view toward requests for DMCA anti-circumvention exemptions than the Librarians and Acting Librarians who’ve presided over the last few go-rounds.

And though her bailiwick is going to be making sure that the Library of Congress is friendly to the visually-impaired, perhaps the effect of that could be felt elsewhere in the e-book world. Might Amazon be moved to bring text-to-speech back to the Kindle? (I doubt it, but you never know.)

In any event, it’s nice but also somewhat troubling that Hayden’s nomination has received such bipartisan support. This is the same Senate, after all, that’s pledged to stonewall Obama’s new Supreme Court nomination, even though Obama recommended a judge who has also received praise from both parties. If it’s so important that the “American people’s choice” for the next President should name the next Justice, why isn’t it just as important that this person also name the next Librarian of Congress? Are librarians just not considered to matter that much in the grand scheme of things, even though this one will be in office for longer than the next President will?

CSPAN has video of the one hour, twenty minute confirmation hearing, as well as a text transcript that’s somewhat awkward and more than a little inaccurate.


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