Profile: “Carla D. Hayden Wants to Spread the Wonders of the Library Into Everyone’s Lives”
In the fall of 2016, Carla D. Hayden had just been confirmed as the 14th librarian of Congress—the first woman and the first African American to hold the position. Hayden, AM’77, PhD’87, was wandering the stacks in the James Madison Memorial Building, familiarizing herself with the vast collections under her charge (at that time, more than 164 million items).
A five-decade career in librarianship has made Hayden familiar with these “pinch-me moments.” She has experienced plenty herself and seen others quickened by the discovery of certain books or historical objects. Now at the helm of the world’s largest library, she wants to share these moments with everyone in the country.
“The effort to open up the institution and its collections to the general public has been at the heart of what Carla’s doing,” says David Ferriero, who, as head of the National Archives, worked closely with Hayden until his retirement in April 2022. Hayden has poured resources into digitization. She seeks to draw children and teenagers and people of color to a place that, historically, has expended little effort attracting or welcoming them.
She is trying, above all, to bring the library into people’s lives, highlighting its role as a keeper and shaper of America’s prismatic story.
It never occurred to her, though, to become a librarian. She majored in political science and history at Roosevelt University in Chicago, where she had moved with her mother at age 10 after her parents divorced.
Upon graduation, unsure whether to pursue a law degree or a master’s in social work, Hayden applied to jobs as she tried to make up her mind. When she wasn’t interviewing, she would retreat to the central branch of the Chicago Public Library downtown. It was there one day that she ran into a college classmate who asked if she was applying for one of the open library positions. They’re hiring anybody, he told her.
Hayden was assigned as a library associate to a storefront branch on 79th Street. It was 1973. She knew nothing about being a librarian except the stereotype—glasses, hair in a bun, spinster, demure. Her first day she found her new colleague Judy Zucker, a white woman in jeans sitting on the floor reading books to a group of autistic Black children.
“She was just really cool,” Hayden says.
About Gary Price
Gary Price (email@example.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com.