To say that Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden is all smiles, excitement and curiosity is an understatement. On her first official day in office last Thursday, her inquisitiveness and thirst for all things was almost palpable.
Hayden began her day with a meeting on the National Book Festival.
“This is so exciting,” she said, a phrase she would use repeatedly throughout her day. “This is the first National Book Festival where I’m not a civilian!”
Before the meeting truly began, Hayden was officially welcomed by staff through a series of photos and videos taken prior to her swearing-in. She was clearly delighted, waving back as if staff could actually see her.
With the festival only days away, the meeting was a debrief, offering the new librarian an overview of festival history, organization, fundraising and programming. Hayden was amazed at all the work of such an undertaking and the dedication of festival organizers and volunteers. When told of her activities for the festival, she said, “This is the best meeting to have on my first day.”
One of her many scheduled appearances will include awarding Stephen King a literacy champion award for his body of work and commitment to education.
“He’s so consistent and very generous with his time about education,” she said. “Having worked with a lot of young people, that’s how they got hooked into longer books. Stephen King – he’s bait!”
As the festival meeting concluded, Hayden made sure to walk everyone out of her office, telling them to “eat your Wheaties” for the week and festival weekend ahead.
Before heading to lunch, Hayden had a chance to peruse the newspapers that covered her swearing-in ceremony from the day before and talk about the experience and the staff meet-and-greet that followed. She was full of anecdotes, whether talking about her mother, her “comic-relief” moment during the ceremony or the individual staff she met that afternoon.
“To get to work with all those people, it’s really energizing,” she said.
Heading to the Madison Cafeteria for lunch, Hayden was greeted along the way by staff congratulating her on her appointment. She made sure to speak to every one. Hayden made rounds among the cafeteria tables, pausing to take pictures, say hello and thank her colleagues.
She interacted with those she met, grabbing hands for a warm shake, taking note of identification badges to put faces with names, making some sort of connection so the moment was memorable.
Hayden’s afternoon consisted of tours of the Geography and Map and Manuscript divisions. The librarian intends to post to her Twitter account often to highlight treasures from the institution as she discovers them. Her first day was a launching of sorts as she enjoyed hands-on experiences with historical maps, artifacts from the Jay I. Kislak collection, presidential papers and other important documents.
Hayden took a stroll down memory lane while viewing maps from one of the map division’s largest collections. The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, which are undergoing a large digitization project, show detailed, accurate and large-scale building “footprints” of individual structures and were often the earliest large-scale urban mapping available for small cities. Hayden had a chance to see a map from 1950 open to the location in Queens, New York, where she went to elementary school, as well as an 1890 map of Baltimore that showed the original location of the Central Pratt Library.
While in the reading room, Hayden spoke with Library staff cartographers and conservators. She was delighted that the institution had in-house mapmakers.
“This is the kind of thing, when you’re talking to kids, to get them into mapping,” she said. “You know, ‘Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?’ These are the type of things to connect to real-life curriculum.” Hayden often commented on practical, education applications of Library resources while on her first day.
She was also shown 3-D objects from the Kislak collection and told they also had items in virtual reality.
When shown beautiful jade and gold pre-Columbian artifacts from the Kislak collection, she slapped on a pair of gloves to examine them.
“Don’t show me anymore, I can’t take it,” she quipped of the collection. “I’m going to be tweeting forever.”
Moving on to the Manuscript Division, Hayden perused letters from Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton and diary pages of Gen. John J. Pershing, among others. Staff had also pulled up Library blog posts highlighting collection items and how they were being used, such as in the Teacher-in-Residence program.
“I’m really glad to see an example of the Teacher-in-Residence program,” she said. “It’s a perfect example of taking Library material and turning it into curriculum.”
Hayden frequently commented on the relationship between Library resources and education, noting on several occasions how collections could be used for curriculum and how important it was for resources to be digitized.
“Sometimes people talk about lack of serendipity in the digital age – usually about books,” she said. “But you can have serendipity in digital too.”
Closing out the week, Hayden, on Friday, spent time in the Young Readers Center for story time with students from Brent Elementary and the Library’s Little Scholars. She read “Click, Clack Surprise” by Doreen Cronin, who was at the National Book Festival on Saturday. She engaged the young audience with questions and even joined in on a song.
Hayden also gave visitors to the Library’s Great Hall a surprise when she briefly interrupted the orientation video to say hello. She was met with resounding applause.
“You think you know about this place,” she said. “So glad to see you! You have to come back!”
The librarian then spent her Friday afternoon participating in a Twitter chat with Discovery for Constitution Day. Classrooms from all over the United States submitted questions for her and other Library staff to answer.
When asked about the types of jobs at the institution, Hayden called many of the staff “Indiana Jones-type librarians.” One could call her that, as well, as she explored the Library Thursday and Friday with a gleam in her eye.
“Amazing is sometimes an overused word,” she said. “But it’s all amazing.”