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Libraries are not surplus

carla b hayden

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden

In an art gallery within the Malden (MA) Public Library on Saturday, March 18, a crowd milled about, waiting for the celebrity to appear. There were no chairs; the packed house didn’t seem to mind. Librarians tend to wear comfortable shoes.

We were waiting to meet Dr. Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress. She and Senator Ed Markey, hometown Malden boy, were at that moment downstairs in the children’s room, doing what Dr. Hayden was trained to do: delight children with stories.*

Let that sink in.

Congress’s official information source, curator of our nation’s documents, is, deep down, a youth services librarian.

It shows. In her first few months on the job, Dr. Hayden has increased the social media presence of the Library of Congress (@librarycongress and @LibnOfCongress). The mayor of Malden, Gary Christenson, hoped aloud that Dr. Hayden wouldn’t run for mayor, as his Twitter feed was “blowing up” in anticipation of her visit! She tweets links to various items from the LoC collection that children and other non-library-wonks might enjoy: images from the Negro Leagues in anticipation of baseball’s opening day, the bibles used for presidential inaugurations, the 1975 original cast album of The Wiz. She posts pictures of herself with four-year-old “librarian for the day” Daliyah Marie Arana. And even more exciting, especially for Washington, DC, area schoolchildren, the Library has newly opened its Young Readers Center doors on Saturdays; author Meg Medina was a recent guest at the opening celebration, some of which (and much more!) can be viewed on the LoC’s YouTube channel.


Carla Hayden and Liz Phipps Soeiro

Hayden’s social media strategy is part of a grand vision for the Library, which she expressed that day in Malden: access for all. She urged a roomful of librarians — “as I call you all, ‘my peeps’” — to disseminate the message that the LoC collection is increasingly digitized and accessible to all, for free. Describing correspondence between Freud and Einstein, journals of Rosa Parks, and the papers of I. M. Pei, Hayden exclaimed, “All of these icons were people, too! And you can be someone.” That’s the message she wants children to receive: “Experience history, know it — but make your own history, too.”

Another part of Hayden’s plan is educating legislators about the Surplus Books Program. Legislators may select from among the extra copies of documents and books at the Library of Congress and give them to libraries in their home districts. (And, no, Hayden insists, the books are not musty weeds.) As Senator Markey and his wife Dr. Susan Blumenthal presented their selections to Malden Public Library director Dora St. Martin, Markey shouted our new rallying cry: “Libraries are not surplus!”

The Librarian of Congress may not speak about politics — including the president’s proposed budget, which would decimate library funding. Even so, Carla Hayden aims to be a cheerleader for all types of libraries, and has a knack for turning library lovers into advocates. Her words so inspired the acting superintendent of Malden Schools that he took the mic after her speech and promised to restore librarians to his town’s schools.

One last example of her youth services background in action: When he opened the event, Senator Markey gave Hayden an impassioned introduction and a hero’s welcome. “And now we can add to the Mount Rushmore of librarians — Beverly Cleary, Melvil Dewey, Laura Bush…and Carla Hayden!” The crowd buzzed with excitement — we would finally hear her speak! And yet, just moments after taking the floor, Hayden turned to Malden’s chief of police, Kevin Molis. She coaxed him up to the podium, urging, “You have to tell them what you told me!” Molis spoke of coming to the Malden Public Library as a child and reading books about police officers, dreaming he could actually be someone he saw in a book. “I think what librarians do is even more important than the police. You protect the freedom to read, to think, to learn, to hope, to dream.” Markey, who spent his childhood and law school years in that same public library, likewise said, “When people come to a library, it helps lift their gaze to the constellation of possibilities for themselves, their community, their state, their whole nation.”

Standing before a crowd of grownup fans who were there to hear her words, the nation’s librarian showed her youth services roots. Hayden empowered others’ voices and evoked their library stories — the remembered, passionate stories that will help save libraries for all those children reading books to find out who they might become. (Dragon-slayers, probably.)

*Here’s what she was reading with the kids:

One Word from Sophia by Jim Averbeck, illus. by Yasmeen Ismail. Atheneum, 2015

It’s a Book by Lane Smith. Roaring Brook, 2010

Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library by Barb Rosenstock, illus. by John O’Brien. Calkins Creek, 2013

House Mouse, Senate Mouse by Peter W. Barnes and Cheryl Shaw Barnes. VSP Books, 1996

For more from The Horn Book on Carla Hayden — including Roger’s editorial letter to his old friend — click the tag Carla Hayden. For photos of the event, visit the City of Malden’s Flickr album.




Jen Mason Stott About Jen Mason Stott

Jen Mason Stott is the librarian at King Open School, a public, social justice-focused K-5 school in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Jen earned her MLIS at Simmons College and her BA at Vassar College.



  1. Kudos and thanks for all you are doing.

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