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Carla Diane Hayden, 14th Librarian of Congress, at the Sharjah International Book Fair on Wednesday. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

Dubai: Carla Diane Hayden is the first woman to serve as the Librarian of Congress in the US. Born, August 10, 1952 in Tallahassee, Florida, she also became the first African American to serve the Librarian of Congress.

In an interview with Gulf News, Hayden spoke about her journey to becoming the librarian and how reading and gathering knowledge has transformed through the years. A strong advocate of library users, she is particularly known for her efforts to create access of libraries and their resources to public in a big way. “I am so thrilled to see that the Sharjah Book Fair is open to the public. I have met some incredible people here at the fair. From children to parents, they have shown a keen interest to learning, reading which is incredibly positive.”

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Read what your heart desires, says Carla Hayden Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Early life

Hayden said she was fortunate that her family emphasised reading. At an early age she realised she enjoyed reading. “Over time I found a profession that helped me share my love of reading with others. I started as a children’s librarian and working with them to get them excited about books. Then I worked with teenagers as well to take up reading.”

She is a graduate of Roosevelt University in Chicago and majored in political science. She completed her master’s degree and doctorate from University of Chicago.

She began her professional career in 1973 as a children’s librarian in the Chicago Public Library. She spent five years as the library services coordinator for Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. She served as assistant professor at the School of Library and Information Science at the University of Pittsburgfrom 1987 to 1991. As a professor of library of science she focused on children’s literature and library resources. In 1991 she returned to Chicago, where she was appointed deputy commissioner and chief librarian of CPL, a position overseeing that city’s entire public library system that she held until 1993.

In 2016, Hayden was nominated by the then United States President Barack Obama who was looking for a person who would open up the Library of Congress to as many people as possible.

For the record, the Library of Congress is the world’s largest library and regarded as the premier research library.

“Obama wanted libraries to be accessible to the public whether they are authors or not. My role was to encourage people to read and inspire reading to one and all,” said Hayden.

Hayden was confirmed by United States Senate for her role as the Librarian of Congress in February 2016. She was confirmed by a 74 to 18 vote in Congress. She was the first professional librarian to hold the position since 1974 (her two most-recent predecessors were historians).

Hayden is the first Librarian of Congress under the new 10-year term limit (with the option for reappointment) enacted by President Obama. Until 2016, the position had been a lifetime appointment.

“Since my appointment, I have been working with libraries around the world to show what the Library of Congress is,” explained Hayden.

Challenge today

“One of the biggest challenges we face is finding enough ways for people to read in this new age. Libraries around the world are facing this.”

Hayden said certain types of books such as books for children, graphic novels are seeing a demand in the physical format. During the pandemic, we saw more people reading books in the hard format.”

“Read what your heart desires. For parents, I would say don’t judge what your children are reading. Let them read whatever they like.”