WASHINGTON — Carla Hayden, a career librarian who grew up in Chicago and kept Baltimore’s libraries open during last year’s civic unrest, was sworn in Wednesday as the 14th Librarian of Congress, becoming the first woman and the first African-American to lead the national library.
Hayden, 64, was the longtime CEO of Baltimore’s library system. She was nominated last year by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate to head the Library of Congress. She will serve a 10-year term, a change from her predecessors, for whom the position was considered a lifetime appointment.
Hayden was sworn in Wednesday by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, with her hand on Abraham Lincoln’s Bible. It’s part of the library’s collection and was used by Obama at his inauguration.
“As a descendant of people who were denied the right to read, to now have the opportunity to serve and lead the institution that is the national symbol of knowledge, is a historic moment,” Hayden said to applause from a crowd that included numerous members of Congress and actor and literacy advocate LeVar Burton, the longtime host of “Reading Rainbow.”
Among her goals is to move aggressively to digitize precious material in the library’s collection of 162 million items, the largest in the world, and she said she plans to seek corporate sponsorships and philanthropic contributions to aid those efforts. The library has an annual budget of $640 million.
“Digitizing … is rather expensive and labor-intensive,” she told The Associated Press in an interview after the swearing-in. “You can’t just take a photo and say, ‘Here, we’ll just put it up.'”
In addition to serving the American public’s research needs, the library has a professional staff that does research for Congress, and it oversees the U.S. Copyright Office. The library’s properties include a massive underground vault in Culpeper, Virginia, where audio and visual material is stored.
Hayden becomes just the third professional librarian to lead the Library of Congress. Her predecessor, James Billington, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan and served for 28 years, was a Russia scholar.
“She’s a pro. She knows what she’s doing,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said at the ceremony.
Although he was well-liked on Capitol Hill, Billington was criticized for failing to keep up with advances in technology in a series of increasingly scathing reports from the Government Accountability Office.
Hayden told AP she’s well acquainted with the library’s challenges and that much progress has been made since the library filled the long-vacant position of chief information officer last year.
“Technology is well on its way to not being a problem,” she said.
Follow Ben Nuckols on Twitter at https://twitter.com/APBenNuckols .