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She has two degrees from the University of Chicago, worked at the Chicago Public Library and was featured in HistoryMakers, a national-renowned Black archives based in the Windy City.

Carla Hayden
Carla Hayden

Now, Carla Hayden is on her way to Washington to head the prestigious Library of Congress, one of the largest libraries in the world, with 162 million books, recordings, artifacts and documents. Haydon makes history as the first Black and first woman to be the 14th Librarian of Congress in the institution’s 214-year history.

President Barack Obama nominated Hayden for the position on February 24. On Wednesday, July 13, she was confirmed by the Senate as the new Librarian of Congress. She replaces James H. Billington, a Rhodes Scholar who retired after 28 years on the job.

Given the Library of Congress’ predominately white history of leadership, Hayden’s appointment is being viewed as an extraordinary achievement. When President Obama nominated her for the position, he said that someone of her background brought “long overdue” changes to the Library leadership. Critics blasted the nomination as “political correctness” that threatened to push the nation backwards to a past where race and gender were the main reasons why applicants were hired and advanced in academia, politics and culture.

Supporters say Hayden was hired because she is tech savvy and has an impressive track record of keeping libraries relevant in the digital age. It’s a skill that’s desperately needed at the Library of Congress. None of the library’s 162 million items have been digitize, a reality that drew heavy criticism under Billington’s leadership.

Hayden’s resume includes strong ties to Chicago. She has a master and doctor degree in Library Science from the University of Chicago. Her bachelor’s degree came from Roosevelt University, located in the South Loop. She began her professional career as a children’s librarian at the Chicago Public Library. When the Harold Washington Library opened in 1991, she was appointed second in command. Two years later, she was appointed director of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. As head of the 22-branch Enoch Pratt system, Hayden increased the number of computers for the public, expanded the broadband service and the e-book collection. In 1995, she became the first Black to receive the prestigious national Librarian of the Year Award by Library Journal.

Hayden was interviewed by The HistoryMakers organization in Chi- cago six years ago on July 16, 2010, almost six years to the day of her confirmation on July 13. She is among many prominent Black achievers who have been profiled in HistoryMakers video oral history collection.

Founded in 1802, the Library of Congress is America’s oldest and largest cultural institution. In 2014, it became the in 2014 became the permanent repository for The HistoryMakers collection.

Julieanna Richardson, founder and executive director of the HistoryMakers, praised Hayden’s latest achievement.

“While we live in complicated times, this is something to celebrate as it is important that many know of our contributions which have been many and long lasting,” she said.


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