Magazine article Information Today

A Big To-Do List for the New Librarian of Congress

Magazine article Information Today

A Big To-Do List for the New Librarian of Congress

Article excerpt

Carla Hayden began her 10-year term as the 14th Librarian of Congress on Sept. 14, 2016, when she was sworn in during a well-attended ceremony at the Library of Congress' (LC) Thomas Jefferson Building. It was a his toric occasion for several reasons: Hayden is the first woman, the first African-American, and only the third librarian to hold the position--and it was the first Librarian of Congress swearing-in ceremony to be streamed on YouTube. Prior to being appointed, Hayden was the CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library system in Baltimore. While there, she oversaw the creation of multiple outreach services for citizens, including access to computers, afterschool programs for teens that feature homework assistance and college counseling, job information for adults, and an electronic library. She was also involved with the digitization of the library's special collections.

Hayden succeeds James H. Billington, a scholar whose lack of digital know-how became a detriment to the LC's ability to thrive in the digital age, leaving it with outdated IT systems and without a strategic directive and the strong leadership required to help it embrace and survive in an electronic environment. Handed these challenges, Hayden steps into the position of director of the world's largest library, with a collection of more than 160 million works, a staff of 3,200, a budget of more than $620 million, and a historically mandated mission to serve Congress. On what should Hayden focus as she attempts to bring the LC into the 21st century?

Questions to Ask

Jim Matarazzo, dean and professor emeritus at Simmons College's Graduate School of Library and Information Science, and Toby Pearlstein, retired director of global information services at Bain & Co., both reference the need to assess the LC's current responsibilities by asking three simple task-oriented questions: What are we doing now? What should we be doing? What can we stop doing? Additionally, they emphasize the importance of capturing information on the LC's current userbase and analyzing the current staffers and staffing requirements. These efforts have already become two of Hayden's initial priorities.

Hayden inherited a staff with low morale, as evidenced by a 2016 survey of federal employees that The Washington Post reports found "only 49 percent of staff said they had a 'high level of respect' for the library's senior leaders and only 38% reported being satisfied with senior leadership's practices." Hayden plans to conduct informal meetings with staffers--perhaps a "coffee time with Carla"--to hear about their concerns, better understand the library's history and its operations, and help them reach their full potential.

Work With Congress and the Public

The LC's mission is "to support the Congress in fulfilling its constitutional duties and to further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people," according to the 2014 "Annual Report of the Librarian of Congress." In FY2014, it responded to more than 1 million reference requests from Congress, the public, and federal agencies. And congressional clients accessed online research products from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) on more than 656,000 occasions. The LC had more than 1.45 million onsite visitors and 78.1 million visits to its web properties.

Given these statistics, it would seem that the LC is indeed fulfilling its role as a true national library as opposed to just supporting Congress. However, this is not always how it is generally perceived. Vika Zafrin, digital scholarship librarian at Boston University, would like to see "the Library of Congress become officially recognized as the United States National Library. This move would also send a clear signal that the United States values its national literary heritage and the pursuit of knowledge as well as make it easier to argue for funding it at the level a national library deserves. …

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