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A Chat with the Librarian of Congress: Reading, Teaching, and Questions from Kindergartners

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The 14th Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden. Photo by Shawn Miller.
The 14th Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden. Photo by Shawn Miller.

This post is by Teresa St. Angelo, the 2016-2017 Library of Congress Teacher in Residence.

Earlier this month, I spoke with Dr. Carla Hayden, the 14th Librarian of Congress, about a wide variety of topics. As I kicked off our conversation, I was thinking about the first activity I do with my new kindergartners each fall. We engage in a show and tell of items in the students’ backpacks. This one activity gives me an awareness and understanding of the boys and girls unlike any other.

As a way to get to know Dr. Hayden, I asked her what the first thing she brought to her new office after being sworn in on September 14th and explain why. She immediately took a box off her shelf, and spoke about the value of the item inside it, a children’s book titled Bright April. She explained that this had been her favorite book as a child and this particular copy had been a gift to her. Inside the book, Dr. Hayden had placed two photographs of herself as a young girl, and she admitted to reading the story over and over, loving it even more each time.

Hayden’s ongoing passion for books and reading began with her connection to a character in that story. Her zeal for reading clearly grew through the years. When I asked her to complete the sentence: I cannot live without ____ , her response was “Reading. I cannot live without reading.”

dr hayden
A page from Dr. Carla Hayden’s personal copy of the children’s novel Bright April, with two photos of Dr. Hayden as a young girl.

Dr. Hayden’s affection and concern for young children was obvious when I told her I had questions from curious kindergarten students. She took the questions very seriously and eagerly answered each one.

Following are the questions and Dr. Hayden’s answers.

  1. How many books are in the Library? The Library has 38 million books and other printed material.
  2. Why do people go to the Library? To find information and to see one of a kind items that they cannot see anywhere else, such as the items found in President Lincoln’s pockets.
  3. Do you have to do homework? Yes, I have to read a great deal and get ready for meetings.
  4. Do you read all day? I wish I could.
  5. Did you read all the books in the Library? Not yet.
  6. What makes you happy? Being with my family and reading a book that I choose.

Dr. Hayden’s love of reading and her empathy, joy, and understanding of children seem equal to her concern and attention to the needs of teachers. Even before we sat down for the interview, she asked me, “What more can we do to help teachers?”

We just began to focus our discussion on teaching practices when our interview approached its ending. I asked Dr. Hayden to use three adjectives to describe the library. When I asked Dr. Hayden to describe the Library of Congress in three words, she responded. “Exciting, impressive, and boundless,” and I realized her vision for teachers and children can be described with those three words as well.

Stay tuned for future posts to learn more about Dr. Carla Hayden as she continues to lead the Library.  In the meantime, I’ll ask you Dr. Hayden’s question: What more would you like to see the Library of Congress do for teachers?

Comments (21)

  1. I like the Story, working in a Middle School Library is so awesome. Kids need to read.

  2. working in a Middle school 6-8th. grade is awesome we have real good readers.

  3. I loved this article!!! The dedication of Ms. Bell as well as her love of reading comes across very strongly!!! Like her, I too have a very special book since childhood. The questions from the kindergarteners were perfect and the answers most informative!!! Simply a delightful post!!

    • Thanks for your compliments Ms. Henry. Just one heads up: the post was written by our current Teacher in Residence Teresa St. Angelo.

  4. Nice to get acquainted with Dr. Hayden through the wonderful questions by the Kindergarteners. I thoroughly enjoy this blog. Always enjoy reading about new ideas for lesson plans for young learners to encourage critical thinking and creativity.

  5. What a truly warm and wonderful approach to learning about your new students and engaging them in a subject near and dear to their little hearts: themselves! It was heartwarming to hear Dr Hayden’s response and see how deeply meaningful books are to her life. I still recall that first time my mother took me to the library as though it were yesterday. As a bibliophile and a lover of all things related to reading I still get excited when entering my local library. Thank you for helping us all to feel we got to know Dr. Hayden a bit more!

  6. This article was well written and I enjoyed reading it. I think it would be a great idea for the Library of Congress to reach out to teachers across the country to help them inform their students about the Library of Congress and what it offers.

  7. What a fantastic article! As a kindergarten teacher myself, it is nice to read an article where kindergarteners get to ask the questions! – not something you read everyday. I would love to receive training on how I could incorporate resources from the Library of Congress into my daily instruction. We certainly do not teach enough Social Studies! Thanks for the enjoyable read.

  8. Interesting article! I enjoyed reading about Dr. Hayden and hope that other schools will reach out to learn more about The Library of Congress!

  9. I love the questions that the kindergarteners came up with! Each year I learn a lot about my kindergarten students by asking them to bring in three items that tell me about themselves. I also love how it makes them engage in thoughtful questioning. I think that it was a great way to find out about Dr. Hayden and a bit more about the library of congress. I have heard from a colleague of mine about the wonderful lessons that her class has engaged in using the Library of Congress.

  10. Easy to see Dr. Hayden’s love of reading and a desire to inspire and help students and teachers! The Library of Congress contains a wealth of knowledge that teachers can share with their students. Good luck to Dr. Hayden as she reaches out to classrooms and teachers.

  11. Wow! First off congratulations to Dr. Carla Hayden for her historical nomination to be the 14th Librarian of Congress. Her dedication to learning and teachers is completely visible through this article. I hope her love of reading extends out to the kindergartners asking the questions and well beyond! What an honor to speak with her and I look forward to her leading the Library.

  12. Incredible approach and emphasis to the importance of reading – bravo !

  13. It was interesting learning about Dr.Hayden. I enjoyed reading this short article.

  14. Thank you Ty, for taking the time to read about Dr.Hayden and submit a comment. As an elementary student, can offer you amazing opportunities to add to your learning and knowledge.
    Ty,Do you love to read as much as Dr.Hayden?
    I always tell students, “The more you read, the smarter you get!”
    Hope to hear from you again, Ty.

  15. Great article – enjoyed reading it. I could tell Dr Hayden really enjoys working with young children.

  16. Teresa, In answer to your question…about Dr. Hayden’s question: What more would we like to see the LOC do for teachers? I’d love to see more traveling exhibits available for hosting. I’m librarian in a very large high school district: 6 high schools and over 10,000 students. How great it would be to host an exhibit and bring awareness of the LOC to all these students! (Hey, Dr. Hayden asked!! There’s my answer:) And thanks, Teresa.. for being our voice.

  17. As a followup to mrs keegan’s suggestion… i would love for the library to promote and facilitate field trips to d.c. I have not looked into this really, but if they “advertised” and promoted field trips through local districts i am sure many educators would be thrilled to go with their students.

    • There is information on group and student tours on the Library of Congress website. Contact our Visitor Services Office for information. Please be aware that our busy season starts in February and continues to July and it can be very hard to get in for tours.

  18. Wonderful article Teresa! Very refreshing to see such dedication and enjoyment for reading. Dr. Hayden’s passion for books and the l.o.c. alike seem unparalleled. Keep up the good work!

  19. Interesting article – Some great ideas throughout this piece

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