236: The Self-Empowered Woman: Carla Diane Hayden

Dear Followers,

My closest friends and family know only too well how thrilled I was to receive a photocopy of my “listing” at the Library of Congress. Somehow, seeing my name and the titles of my books—and knowing that they were part of America’s most esteemed library—really put a big smile on my face. Definitely one of those “Check your ego at the door” moments…

Today, I’d like to introduce you to the 14th Librarian of Congress, Carla Diane Hayden, who was born in Tallahassee, Florida on August 10, 1952. Hayden is the first female and first African-American to receive this appointment, which has a ten-year term. She received her undergraduate degree at Chicago’s Roosevelt University, and both her master’s and doctorate degrees in Library Science from the University of Chicago Graduate Library School.

As a child, the first book she ever checked out of a Library was Bright April. In her words, “It was about an African-American girl, she was a Brownie, she had pigtails, and I thought I looked like her. What’s so important about kids’ books—they can be windows to introduce them to the world, but they also need to see a reflection. They should be a window and a mirror.”

From 1970 to 1980, she held several positions in the Museum of Science and Industry and the Chicago Public Library—at some point during that decade she met Michelle and Barack Obama. For a brief time, she left Chicago and moved to Pennsylvania where she taught as an assistant professor of library science at the University of Pittsburgh. She soon returned to Chicago where she became a children’s librarian at the Chicago Public Library, and was named second-in-command there in 1991.

Two years later, she moved to Baltimore, where she was named Director at Enoch Pratt Free Library (EPFL). She oversaw a library cooperative that had 22 locations, hundreds of employees and an annual budget of $40 million. In 1995, Library Journal named her Librarian of the Year—the first African-American to receive this award.

In 2003, she was named Ms. Magazine’s Woman of the Year, in part to honor her bravery for disagreeing with Attorney General John Ashcroft, and his insistence that library patron records be accessible to the FBI under the Patriotic Act. From 2003 to 2004 she was president of the American Library Association, which had 45,000 branches, and has long been considered the most powerful library association in the world.

Hayden once told The Baltimore Sun that when she was in her early twenties her mother took her to Paris, London and Rome, because she felt that Carla needed “…to experience other cultures.” Ever since then, Paris has been her destination of choice, and for over a decade she has stayed at the same hotel—Hotel Brighton on Rue de Rivoli. She admits to not knowing “…what hot chocolate was until I tasted it…” at Paris’ La Maison Angelina.

There are over 162 million items—from Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten draft of the Declaration of Independence to thousands of Abraham Lincoln’s personal papers to Rosa Parks’ letters—and Dr. Hayden will be responsible for safeguarding and promoting all of them.

It’s a far cry from the day when Melvil Dewey (a founder of the American Library Association and the Dewey Decimal System) considered women well-suited to the repetitive nature of library work because they were able to sit for longs periods and “…didn’t cause trouble.” Hayden’s response to his edict was, “Now we are fighters for freedom, and we cause trouble! We are not sitting quietly anymore.”


About Marilyn Murray Willison

The author of six non-fiction books, Willison worked as Health and Fitness Editor at the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, and wrote book reviews, health, beauty, fashion, and travel articles on a regular basis for the Los Angeles Times. Her byline has appeared in a wide variety of American newspapers and magazines.