A former Chicago children’s librarian has reached the peak of her profession. On Wednesday, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts swore in Carla Hayden as the 14th Librarian of Congress. She’s the first woman and first African American to hold the prestigious chief executive position in the Library of Congress’ 216-year history.
President Barack Obama nominated Hayden in February, and the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination in July.
A statement from the Library said Hayden took her oath on the same Bible that President Abraham Lincoln and Obama used when they took the oath of office.
Hayden, who is from Queens, New York, has a long history of serving low-income communities.
In an interview with NBC News, Hayden spoke about her decision as chief of Baltimore’s public library system to keep branches open citywide during the unrest following Freddie Gray’s funeral. Many other institutions that serve the community chose to keep their doors closed.
“We knew the people would count on the library being open,” Hayden told NBC News. “There were people waiting to get in, to use the computers, to apply for jobs. There were children that couldn’t go to school. There were people that needed to find resources that just needed a place to be and there was this oasis right in the middle of all of that unrest.”
In the early 1990s, Hayden was proactive in making sure libraries in Baltimore were connected to the Internet. When she noticed a digital divide emerging, Hayden also provided e-readers, iPads, and Kindles at her libraries so that children in “tougher areas” of the city would be familiar with the latest technology, the news outlet reported.
In recent years, many have complained about a lack of basic technology at the Library of Congress. Hayden is seen widely as the librarian who will bring the world’s largest library into the 21st century.
“When I contemplate the potential of harnessing the power of technology with the unparalleled resources at the Library of Congress, I am overwhelmed with the possibilities,” she said in the statement.
Hayden earned her masters and doctorate from the University of Chicago and served as the city’s deputy commissioner and chief librarian of the Chicago Public Library in 1991. It was around that time when she first met the Obamas.
Her love for reading started in childhood. Her favorite book was Bright April because the author and illustrator, Marguerite de Angeli, promoted cultural understanding through multi-racial characters.
“Years later, as a children’s librarian, I realized children need to see themselves reflected in books,” she stated. “Books can be mirrors, and they can be windows.”