There really is nothing that the Obama administration will not saddle with the yoke of identity politics. The latest target is the Library of Congress. For the position of librarian, vacant since the retirement of Reagan appointee James H. Billington last fall, Obama has appointed Carla D. Hayden, who, if confirmed, “would be the first woman and the first African American to hold the position,” the president noted in his nomination statement, “both of which are long overdue.”
Perhaps the president emphasized Hayden’s potentially “historic” confirmation because her qualifications for the position are so thin. While Hayden is an accomplished woman in her field — she has been CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Md., since 1993, and from 2003 to 2004 she was the president of the American Library Association — she is not suited to the position of librarian of Congress. This was made embarrassingly apparent last month when the White House released a four-minute commercial touting Hayden for the job. In the video, Hayden describes her work with neighborhood libraries in Baltimore: “opportunity centers” where you could “get the latest Harry Potter as soon as it came out . . . apply for a job . . . and find that step up in your life.” And she touts how Baltimore libraries “became a site for people to actually get food, to get supplies” during last year’s riots.
The Library of Congress is not the place for ideological agenda-pushing. It’s a place for serious, public-spirited scholarship.
Hayden is not a scholar. She has edited one book — Venture into Cultures: A Resource Book of Multicultural Materials and Programs — and published a smattering of articles, mostly on race and library access. She is, if anything, an activist. “We are fighters for freedom,” she told Ms. magazine in 2003, waxing grandiose about “the social work aspect of librarianship.” The Nation recently called her a “radical librarian.”
If President Obama wants to promote Hayden’s professional talents, her fervor for social work, and the community-spiritedness she has demonstrated during her time in Baltimore, he could make her the first head of his presidential library. It would be a suitable homecoming; Hayden and the Obamas first met through the public-library system in Chicago.
The Library of Congress, though, is not the place for ideological agenda-pushing. It’s a place for serious, public-spirited scholarship, and much better candidates than Carla Hayden are available to facilitate that mission.