President Barack Obama said Wednesday his nominee to head the Library of Congress would be the first African-American and the first woman to lead the 216-year-old institution.
But first, Carla D. Hayden will need to rise to the top of a backlog of civilian nominations pending before the Senate Rules and Administration Committee — and then make it past the Senate floor.
If confirmed, she would also be the first librarian to serve under term limits.
Hayden would fill a vacancy left by former Librarian James H. Billington, who retired in January after a 29-year tenure in which he came under fire for a host of technology failures. Hayden currently serves as director of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, a position she has held since 1993. Hayden would be the 14th Librarian of Congress.
“This is truly a great honor to be nominated by President Obama to lead the nation’s library, the Library of Congress,” Hayden said in a statement. “It is my privilege to serve the Enoch Pratt Free Library and the citizens of Baltimore for more than 20 years, during which time we restored its world-renowned reputation. “
Obama said in the statement he and first lady Michelle Obama knew Hayden from her time at the Chicago Public Library, where she worked from 1973 to 1981 and again from 1991 to 1993.
This would be the second time Hayden is seeking confirmation from the Senate. Obama previously nominated Hayden to serve as a member of the National Museum and Library Services Board in 2010.
“Dr. Hayden has devoted her career to modernizing libraries so that everyone can participate in today's digital culture,” Obama said in the statement. “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.”
Given Senate Republican’s sour mood on nominations coming from the president — Hayden’s announcement came the day after GOP Judiciary Committee members vowed to put the kibosh on any Supreme Court nominees before the general election — some seem willing to at least have a conversation with Hayden.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, emphasized the importance of the Library of Congress’ function in conducting congressional research and administering the countries copyright laws.
“Integrating new technologies and using new communication tools will be integral to the mission,” Blunt said in a statement. “I congratulate Dr. Hayden on her nomination and look forward to getting to know her and gaining a clear understanding of her vision for moving the Library forward into the next decade.”
Technology issues have plagued the library, particularly after a scathing GAO report in 2015 that found the library lacked the ability and leadership to handle a $119 million investment in information technology.
If confirmed, Hayden would be the first librarian to serve under a law that established 10-year term limits for the position. The law requires the head of the congressional library to go up for reappointment every decade.
House Administration Chairman Candice Miller, R-Mich., and Joint Committee on the Library Vice Chairman Gregg Harper, R-Miss., echoed Blunt’s sentiment on hearing from Hayden.
“The next Librarian must be committed to building upon the institution’s tradition of the advancement of knowledge throughout the world,” Miller and Harper said in a joint statement.
Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin, both Maryland Democrats, said they recommended Hayden to the president in October.
“Dr. Hayden has brought knowledge and truth to our communities, helping the leaders of today blaze trails and forge the way to the future,” Mikulski said in a statement. “Baltimore’s loss of Dr. Hayden would be Congress and the nation’s gain.”
Other Democrats encouraged the Senate to move quickly.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who said in a statement she spent two days a week at the Baltimore library as a child, called Hayden a “qualified, dedicated, proven leader.”
“This is more than an opportunity to make history with the first woman and first African American Librarian of Congress — this is also a chance to name a highly-qualified administrator, innovative librarian, and avid reader to guide the world’s largest library system,” Pelosi said. “The Senate should act swiftly to confirm her nomination.”
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