History at the Library: First Woman, African-American Sworn In as Librarian of Congress

jemaerca/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — As the first woman and first African-American to become the Librarian of Congress –- an institution with a lifespan almost as long as the nation itself –- Dr. Carla Hayden made it clear in her acceptance speech on Wednesday that she fully grasped the magnitude of the transition.

“People of my race were once punished with lashes and worse for learning to read,” Hayden, the former director of the public library system in Baltimore, Maryland said. “As a descendant of people who were denied the right to read, to now have the opportunity to serve and lead in the institution that is the national symbol of knowledge is a historic moment.”

Hayden was sworn in by Supreme Court Justice John Roberts on a Bible owned by President Abraham Lincoln in the mezzanine of the Library, which was established in 1800. Her mother Colleen held the book as she recited her oath.

During her tenure leading the Enoch Pratt Free Library system in Baltimore, Hayden made the decision to keep the libraries open even during the April 2015 clashes between police and protesters, which often turned violent.

Even the branch directly across the street from the notorious CVS that was set on fire by vandals kept its doors open.

“I was there, hand-in-hand with the staff, as we opened the doors every morning. Cars were still smoldering in the streets. ‘Closed’ signs were hanging in storefronts for blocks. But people were lined up outside the doors of the library,” she said.

Hayden, who will also be in charge of overseeing the Library’s full transition into the digital age, spoke of her excitement that children all around the country could soon explore one of the Library’s recent acquisitions: the personal collection of Rosa Parks.

“Even in the library of a young girl in Baltimore looking around as her city is in turmoil, that is a real public service,” she said. “And a natural step for this nation’s library, a place where you can touch history and imagine your future.”

“I cannot wait to work with all of you to seize this moment in history,” Hayden added. “So let’s make history at the Library of Congress together.”

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