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New Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden opens up on trailblazing role

History at Library of Congress

WASHINGTON -- There was a changing of the guard at the world’s largest library.

Carla Hayden, who holds a doctorate from the Graduate Library School of the University of Chicago, took her place in history Wednesday, becoming the 14th Librarian of Congress since the position was created by Thomas Jefferson in 1802. She’s the first woman and first African-American to hold the position.

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“As a descendent of people who were denied the right to read, to now have the opportunity to serve and lead the institution that is the national symbol of knowledge is a historic moment,” Hayden said during her swearing-in ceremony.

Hayden will oversee the world’s largest library, which holds every book ever printed in the U.S., and the U.S. Copyright Office.

Just after her historic swearing-in, she spoke about her trailblazing role to CBS News.

“To have someone of color from that legacy to head up the very symbol of knowledge and reading is almost overwhelming,” Hayden said. “It’s a wonderful way, though, to show how the country’s grown.”

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden speaks to CBS News during an interview after her swearing-in ceremony at the Library of Congress in Washington on Sept. 14, 2016.
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden speaks to CBS News during an interview after her swearing-in ceremony at the Library of Congress in Washington on Sept. 14, 2016. CBS

Hayden takes over at a key time for the library. The previous librarian, James Billington, had been criticized for poor management.

In a scathing report last year, the Government Accountability Office found the library’s lax leadership failed to keep pace with technology, manage its investments on behalf of taxpayers and ensure cybersecurity.

Hayden said she will improve digital efforts.

“I’m very confident that the staff is very dedicated to this enterprise and that we will make progress,” Hayden said.

Hayden led Baltimore’s libraries for 23 years and won accolades for keeping its branches open during the worst of the 2015 riots following the death of Freddie Gray.

She also worked in the Chicago library system earlier in her career, where she first met Barack and Michelle Obama. President Obama nominated Hayden in February. The U.S. Senate confirmed Hayden by a vote of 74-18 in July.

An avid reader, Hayden said her favorite book was “Bright April” by Marguerite de Angeli, a children’s book first published in 1946.

In her remarks at her swearing-in ceremony, Hayden told a packed audience inside the Jefferson Building’s iconic Great Hall that as an 8-year-old child with pigtails she would rack up library fines because she kept the book checked out for so long.

The Library of Congress holds more than 162 million items in almost every language. Key items in its collection include the Gutenberg Bible, Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence and Abraham Lincoln’s handwritten copy of the Emancipation Proclamation.

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