What We’re Looking For at Wednesday’s Hearing on the Librarian of Congress Nominee

On Wednesday, the Senate Rules Committee will hear from Dr. Carla HaydenPresident Obama’s nominee to serve as the next Librarian of Congress. Last June I described criteria President Obama should use in choosing his nominee.

It is likely many organizations will endorse her in advance of the hearing, due in no small part to her decades of service running libraries, her role as president of the American Library Association from 2003–2004, and position as CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. But as she has not yet met with civil society organizations regarding her nomination, we will withhold judgment at least until we hear her testify.

Here is what I will be looking for in her testimony:

  1. The Library of Congress plays — or should play — a key role in making information about Congress available to the public. Over the last few years the House and Senate have made tremendous strides in publishing legislative data online in formats the public can reuse; at the same time, even with a few centers of excellence, the Library as a whole has a history of foot dragging. Will Dr. Hayden lead the Library to embrace the mission of (1) publishing congressional information online in formats that allow the public to fully engage with information held by the Library and (2) building tools that enhance public comprehension of information held by the Library?
  2. In many ways, the Library of Congress is an insular, sometimes backwards, organization. I have run into instances where senior officials are unwilling to meet with members of the public and have blacklisted perceived critics of the Library from speaking at events. The nomination process also raises questions about access and engagement. Will Dr. Hayden commit to ongoing public/stakeholder engagement on the mission and programs of the Library and create a permanent stakeholder advisory group on online access to congressional information?
  3. The issue of public access to Congressional Research Service reports has been been debated for more than 20 years. During that time the Library has fought a backdoor effort to limit access, resulting in access for the wealthy and well-connected and denial for the American public. Will Dr. Hayden adopt a pro-disclosure bias at the Library, supporting public access to information held or generated by the Library, including CRS Reports, except to the extent non-disclosure serves a clearly articulated, well-founded need for confidentiality that significantly outweighs the public’s interest?

It is likely that others will have additional concerns. What is the role of the Library with respect to preservation of and access to information generally? How does the Librarian engage with the copyright process? Given the history of mismanagement, how will the Librarian transform the culture to one of excellence?

It is not easy to testify before a Senate committee. We wish Dr. Hayden well and look forward to her testimony.

— Written by Daniel Schuman