This woman is the first African American to head the Library of Congress since its founding in 1800

Etsey Atisu June 13, 2019
Dr. Carla Hayden is the 1st woman, 1st African-American Librarian of the U.S. Congress Library/Daily.Jstor

Since the year 1800, there had never been an African-American person to have headed the United States Congress Library until Dr Carla Hayden came into the picture.“As a descendant of people who were denied the opportunity to serve and lead in the institution that is the national symbol of knowledge is a historic moment,” Dr. Carla Hayden, Librarian of U.S. Congress

Photo: Washington Post

Assuming office in September 2016, Hayden became the first woman and first African-American to be Librarian of the U.S. Congress Library with responsibilities such as being the appointment of the U.S. Poet Laureate and awarding the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. The Library houses 171 million items.

As part of her job as well, she has broad responsibilities around copyright, extending to electronic resources and fair use provision outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

And that is not the first ‘first’ she has ever attained in her 66 years of life. In 1995, she became the first African American to receive the Library Journal’s Librarian of the Year Award in recognition of her outreach services at the Pratt Library which included an after-school center for Baltimore teens offering homework assistance and college counselling.

She is also the first professional librarian appointed to the post in over 60 years.

Michelle Obama and Dr. Carla Hayden during a discussion on the former’s memoir at American Library Assn Conference/Zimbio

In June 2019, she was unveiled as the newest exhibit on the 100th anniversary of the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Hayden believes her success is a direct result of the women in that movement.

Born Carla Diane Hayden in Tallahassee, Florida on August 10, 1952, to Bruce Kennard Hayden, Jr, at the time, Director of the String Department at Florida A&M University, and Colleen Hayden, a social worker. She grew up in Chicago with her mother following the collapse of the marriage of her parents.

Her father’s maternal side of the family who eventually settled in Du Quoin, Illinois, are believed to be slaves, which is chronicled in the book, It’s Good to Be Black, by Ruby Berkley Goodwin.

Dr. Carla Hayden began her career as a young adult services coordinator from 1979 to 1982 with the Chicago Public Library, and then as a library associate and children’s librarian from 1973 to 1979.

Photo: American Libraries Magazine

In January 2010, after serving for years as CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Maryland, Hayden was nominated by President Obama to be a member of the National Museum and Library Services Board. Since then, she stepped into the high corridors of the very place in which she has today, made history in.

Prior to that, she was deputy commissioner and chief librarian of the Chicago Public Library from 1991 to 1993.

From 2003 until 2004, she was also the president of the American Library Association (ALA) during which she was the leading voice of the ALA in speaking against the newly passed United States Patriot Act.  

TIME celebrated her for her achievement as the first woman and first African-American to be Librarian of the U.S. Congress.

She also holds a B.A. from the Roosevelt University and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the Graduate Library School of the University of Chicago.


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