"Librarians are the original search engines." Those are the words of Dr. Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress and the featured guest on this episode of Broadband Conversations. Dr. Hayden is the first woman and the first African American to serve as the Librarian of Congress. Under her historic leadership, she is working to ensure that the 171 million items in the Library's collection—from the diaries of Susan B. Anthony to the Gettysburg Address to the papers of Rosa Parks—are open and accessible to all.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Hello, and welcome to Broadband Conversations. My name is Jessica Rosenworcel, and I'm a member of the Federal Communications Commission. And this is the podcast where I get to talk to leading women from across the technology, innovation, and media industries. You get to hear what they're working on, what's on their minds, and what they think is the next big thing.
And if you visited Washington before, you might have stopped by the capital for a tour, or even driven by the White House. And you might have spent time and the Smithsonian museums, but here's the one place I am going to recommend that everyone should see whether you live here or you're just visiting, and that's the Library of Congress.
Now libraries have been called palaces for the people, and there is no greater palace for the American public than the Library of Congress. It is the largest library in the world. It holds millions and millions of books, maps, newspapers, and recordings. And all of that is a sum of the history of the United States.
It's an absolutely incredible facility. It's a beautiful building, and it has the most amazing archives. They range from the personal papers of Susan B. Anthony and Rosa Parks to lots and lots of papers from our presidents. So that is so much stuff to collect, track, protect, and make available to the public.
And joining me today is the woman responsible for it all. So I am so honored to have Dr. Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress, as my guest. She is the 14th Librarian of Congress, and she is the first woman and first African American woman to hold this position. It is just such a treat to have you here today.
MS. HAYDEN: Well, thank you. This is really a treat for me because I often say and we have it in our gift shop, librarians are the original search engines.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: I like it. Perfect.
MS. HAYDEN: We've made mugs and bags and everything. So we really appreciate being
MS. ROSENWORCEL: That is a perfect tagline for the internet age, but let's roll back a little bit because I really like to start by asking people, how did you get to where you are today?
MS. HAYDEN: Well, I have to admit that I'm an accidental librarian. I had an undergraduate experience where I majored in political science and history. I loved books and reading. And after I graduated, I was looking for employment. And before I decided if I was going to go to law school or what and between interviews, where I was politely told I was very had good grades and things like that, but I didn't have any experience. So I would encourage young people to definitely do internships and things and to get experience.
But I would go to the public library in between these interviews. And one day I was there, and a person who had just graduated with me said, hey, Carla, are you here for the library jobs? They're hiring anybody.
And he meant anybody with an undergraduate degree. And I went upstairs, and I said, I love books and libraries, and that was the start of it.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, my gosh, accidental librarian. From that
MS. HAYDEN: Accidental librarian. But it really showed me something else that I've talked with younger people about, being open to possibilities. You may think you're on one path going to law school or something, but just be open.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, so true. But so where did you go from that first librarian job? What got you to where you are today in Washington?
MS. HAYDEN: What got me I think I ended up at the world's largest library with the mandate to open up this treasure chest to everyone and using technology actually as a tool to do that was the fact that I was assigned to a storefront branch on the Southside of Chicago.
And I got to see firsthand what it meant to people of all ages and backgrounds to have access to information and what a powerful experience that could be for people for just basic enjoyment to being able to deal with life issues, get information that would help them in their lives.
And that's when I knew that librarianship and that's really what it's all about, giving people the information or the materials they want or might need at the right time was a profession that I could really do service, too.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: That is so beautifully put.
Now, from Chicago, I think you made some pitstops before coming to Washington.
MS. HAYDEN: Made some pitstops. I had the experience of being a museum librarian at the Museum of Science and Industry. They wanted to open up their library collections to the public. So that gave me a different view of what different types of libraries could offer to people.
I taught in a library school, and I ended up spending time in Baltimore, and I still live there being the head of a public library system that was also the State Library, the Maryland State Library. So having the responsibility of the immediate locale and then the 23 counties in Maryland. So there were rural areas and also to bring the first technology system to the state through the libraries.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Yes. So as the State Library, was it a repository of all sorts of historical documents just for the state?
MS. HAYDEN: Yes, there was that, but also the interlibrary loan system. So there were trucks and vans that went throughout the state, bringing materials back. And then, we established the first electronic delivery system for all of the libraries. Sailor, it's now called.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, I've heard of that.
MS. HAYDEN: And that was the early days of the internet where we made sure that we had that, so that was the start. We had E rate, and we had all of those things.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Yeah. No, I'm very familiar obviously through the FCC with E rate.
MS. HAYDEN: Yes.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: and the good work gets done to connect our libraries. But it's like you said, you were the first search engine as a librarian
MS. HAYDEN: Yeah, librarians are.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: And now, it sounds like you are and now the logistics coordinator with the development of systems like Sailor, and also libraries play such a big role in getting so many people online.
MS. HAYDEN: And what we're finding out and what in the early days of this connecting because most libraries had already started automating their operations. The card catalog was one of the first things that were converted. And using the early days of the things like LexisNexis databases, database searches. So libraries were very, of course, involved with that when things went online.
Being able, though, to connect with each other so that we wouldn't have to individually have the analog copies of things
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Right.
MS. HAYDEN: but you just needed to know where it was. And that was a big shift and what technology you didn't have to own it and have it on site. You just needed to find out who has it, and then you can borrow it.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: I know, and it's really revolutionary if you think about it in terms of our access to material and information.
MS. HAYDEN: Yes, and distribution and things like that. So that was those were the early days.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Wow. Okay. So now, you sit at the helm of the Library of Congress, and I'm sure that you're working to make it as accessible to the public as possible, including just what you described, which is figuring out how to make content available digitally and through less traditional means.
So I'd like to hear a little bit more about that and how you're working on it.
MS. HAYDEN: And what's interesting about and that's where my museum experience was very helpful. The Library of Congress has unique collections. The collection of Branch Rickey, the baseball scout, that were just typewritten. His assessment, for instance, of Henry Hank Aaron saying
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, my gosh.
MS. HAYDEN: I think he could do okay, and Ernie Banks and Jackie Robinson.
And you mentioned the papers and diaries of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the suffragettes, and the papers of 23 presidents from George Washington to Coolidge, and then the largest collection of cartoon art. All of these types of things that other these are unique items.
And so when you think about digitizing, that's where the Library of Congress is putting most of his emphasis. Things that you wouldn't you'd only have to you'd have to come to the Library of Congress to see, those are the things we're digitizing and making a priority, not copies of books that are in all kinds of collections.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: And how much
MS. HAYDEN: And we have so much, one million items in our prints and photographs collection, historic maps from the Civil War, and World War II, you name it. I think and that's what's so wonderful. I've been using social media to take people on the adventure. I have a Twitter account where I'm saying, look at this, this is because discoveries are being made every day just about.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Wow. Now, you also have material that is not textual or visual. I mean, you've got recordings, too.
MS. HAYDEN: Recordings, film, and some of the recordings were part of the American Folklife Center, and it continues early recordings of ethnic music and especially Native music and oral histories going back to slavery. People who had experiences that allowed them to talk about slavery from their relatives' standpoint.
You have the Veterans History Project, people who served, and families who served. So all of these things are available, oral histories that you can use as well.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: You know, it's such an amazing range. It's just awesome to try to think about it, but one of the things that I like that the Library of Congress does is that you create these exhibits to invite people in
MS. HAYDEN: Yes.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: and show us things like Lincoln's Gettysburg address and all the materials you have or baseball as you described because I know you had an exhibit on the history of baseball.
MS. HAYDEN: And we were able to partner with other institutions and other entities. And so, the Baseball Hall of Fame actually lent Babe Ruth's cleats, and we had other physical objects.
And with the Rosa Parks exhibit that just opened, the Museum of African American History and Culture lent one of the dresses that she actually made, and then we had photographs of her wearing that dress.
So we've been able to supplement and augment our exhibits that are very rich with materials from our partner institutions. And that's something that you'll be seeing more and more of.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, that's fantastic. I mean, it just makes history so accessible. So other than Rosa Parks, and I know that that exhibit just opened. Are there others that have been personal favorites or things that you're looking forward to coming up in the future?
MS. HAYDEN: Well, I have to say women's suffrage, and it's still on exhibit has been a personal favorite because it gives you such a sense in a very graphic way of the 70 years that it took. I've met younger women who they don't realize that women didn't have the right to vote in the Revolutionary War period, Civil War period and that it took that long. And that there was a push in the western states, Wyoming was the first state to allow women to vote. But that was in 1869 because they needed statehood.
So it was a it's an exhibit that gives you so much more history. The section on clothing when women got the opportunity to wear pants, and I can personally remember the first time I got to wear blue jeans in high school. That was a big deal. So that exhibit really gives you the popular culture part as well as the history.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, that sounds fantastic. Now, I know, you know, you're not just putting this material out there. You've also asked in some context for public transcriptions or participation in this whole process. Can you talk a little more about that?
MS. HAYDEN: Yes, the National Archives, in fact, was one of the institutions that started this. It's crowdsourcing, basically, putting up electronically the original piece of for instance, with the Library of Congress, we started it with letters to Abraham Lincoln that we had, letters that hadn't been seen since he actually read them in 1862 and things like that. And you are asking people to help us transcribe these historic documents.
So we put the Branch Rickey papers up. We put some of the things up from the suffrage. And they're in cursive, and that's been very interesting because you may know that some younger people are not able to read cursive.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: It's also awfully decorative the further you go back in history.
MS. HAYDEN: It is the further you go back, and so that's kind of so, it's like a puzzle. And we've had over 28,000 of the letters transcribed by the public, and so it's an exciting project. And so, we're going to just keep putting things up and really making them available in a different way.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Yeah, and asking for the public to participate.
MS. HAYDEN: And it's been fun, but my mom is a retiree, and she has said that she would volunteer. So it's a great thing for retirees.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, so neat because when we think about the digital age, we don't think about that ability to participate, particularly for elderly people. But there's so much in our history to comb through and categorize and organize. It's really amazing the resources you have, but it's also just very cool that you would ask the public to participate in that.
MS. HAYDEN: Oh, yes, and they have so much insight that they can also put notes. So if they are transcribing, you know, the literal transcription, but memories that they might have about certain events or things that it triggers. So it helps people think about history in a different way.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Yeah, it's like we're crowdsourcing history in the Library of Congress.
MS. HAYDEN: Yes, yes.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, that's great.
MS. HAYDEN: And the National Archives.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: And the National Archives.
All right, so I want to go from that macro view to the micro view. If I've got a librarian on the line, I'm curious about two things. First, if you prefer the printed page to an ebook or
MS. HAYDEN: I
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Go ahead.
MS. HAYDEN: I must say now, I have to tell you, and that's a question. And it depends on what I'm reading. If I'm reading things for work or reports and things, it's very helpful to have it in electronic form because I can read it anywhere and at any time, and things can be transmitted to me if I'm on the train, and I can read things.
If I'm reading, though, for pleasure, and I'm smiling because I love mysteries and novels and things like that. I love to have the book
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Yeah, you know, I'm with you on that.
MS. HAYDEN: the physical book.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: I think that it feels like such a treat sometimes to turn off a screen and just hold a book in my hand. Though I will also read electronically, there are some things I actually reserve for a physical good old fashioned book.
MS. HAYDEN: Right. And also, when you're traveling, it is helpful to have a book on your device, and you can read it for long flights. However, I must say biographies, especially with photographs, are very good in the analog.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Good point. Good point.
MS. HAYDEN: Coffee table books.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Yeah.
MS. HAYDEN: You shouldn't ask a librarian about this.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Okay. Well, I'm going to ask one more question because you mentioned you like mystery and novels, so I'm just wondering what sitting on your nightstand right now? Is there something you're really looking forward to reading, though, I imagine you love all books equally.
MS. HAYDEN: And what's sitting on the nightstand are at least three things, two books about paper, which are interesting. There's a new book also about a shipwreck that took place with Christopher Columbus' books. So, that's there. I have a new Agatha Raisin book. That's a mystery.
But I have to say that there are baskets of books. I'm very good at decorating with books. So I've gotten past book guilt, and I have aspirational books, and so they're just sections in the house.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, you're making me feel better because don't we all and if the Librarian of Congress has those books that she's pining to get to but never really does
MS. HAYDEN: Just decorate
MS. ROSENWORCEL: I think we can all feel better. We can all feel better, right?
MS. HAYDEN: decorate baskets, and know that you are living in your own treasure chest.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, even better.
MS. HAYDEN: Think of it like that.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: I like it.
MS. HAYDEN: So, at any time, the next snow day, you can go and pick up something.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Well, I'm looking forward to that. Now, I like to close out our conversations by asking everyone at the end a few simple questions about using the internet and online life.
So go to the Wayback Machine, what was the first thing that you recall doing on the internet or online?
MS. HAYDEN: Creating a password. And then that idea of how and what it would entail, and you have to have a numeral, or you have to have a sign. And that was actually kind of exciting. And I have a very fond memory of the young man that was helping all of us, especially certain people of different age groups just think about that and that this is something. And we were all writing them down where we would forget them, and it was just quite an experience, but it was a lot of fun.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: And I'm sure you've done it many times since. What was the last thing you did on the internet?
MS. HAYDEN: Checked on a train reservation because I have a trip to New York that I have to take, and it came up suddenly. And so I was just checking to make sure that my ticket was on the right device.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, understood, yeah.
MS. HAYDEN: And so, the idea that I'm checking for my train ticket on the device and making sure that I could pull it up on time and do it. You know, making sure that so, that's how far we've come.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: It is. Now, you're the Librarian of Congress. So you straddle the analog and digital worlds. You think about the information age. And I wonder what you want the future of the internet to look like?
MS. HAYDEN: I would like to see the infrastructure enable as many people as possible to utilize the internet effectively and safely and to know that they have almost a public transportation aspect to it like we did with the highways in this country that are wonderful. We have that structure you can go from interstate this to that, and we have that, and you can look it up.
So helping people navigate and use the internet effectively
MS. ROSENWORCEL: And safely.
MS. HAYDEN: and safely. So we want stop signs. You know, we want all of that, you know.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Yeah.
MS. HAYDEN: Hazard things, you know, amber alerts, all of these types of things that we built in for our physical maneuverability in the world, and we're going to need it in the digital world.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: You're absolutely right. There's so much power in being connected, but we do have work to do to make sure
MS. HAYDEN: Right.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: that we're all connected.
MS. HAYDEN: But look at the career opportunities that young people have now. Things that we can't even think about or imagine. And that's what, to me, is so exciting. There is such a future.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: I am certain that you were not sitting in that library back in Chicago and thinking about that when you were thinking about
MS. HAYDEN: Oh, no.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: your future of work, right?
MS. HAYDEN: No, but you knew that there were people, who if they only had the opportunity to get the right information or get that copy of a poem that would give them solace, or they had an opportunity to be appreciated that it could make a difference.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Here, here.
Well, thank you for joining me today. But before we go, I want to know where we can follow you and keep up to date with what you're doing.
MS. HAYDEN: Well, you could follow me. And I understand that you're not to ask for followers. The younger people tell me that. But you can follow at
MS. ROSENWORCEL: You go for it. It's totally fine with me.
MS. HAYDEN: @LibnOfCongress. So, it's L I B N OfCongress.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: All right. I am excited to actually check that out and see what things you're sharing with the public at large.
Thank you for what you do?
MS. HAYDEN: Oh, thank you.
MS. ROSENWORCEL: Appreciate it. Thanks again for being here. It's been a treat to talk to you.