Obama's PC Librarian of Congress Pick Much Less Accomplished Than Predecessors

One of the most prestigious posts in government, it has traditionally been home to distinguished scholars like Archibald MacLeish, Daniel J. Boorstin, and the recently retired incumbent, James H. Billington. MacLeish, who served from 1939 to 1944, was a poet and writer whom Franklin Roosevelt called “a scholarly man of letters.” He was a fitting librarian, according to Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, because the Library of Congress “is not merely a library.”

Boorstin, who served as librarian from 1975 to 1987, was a Harvard graduate and Rhodes scholar with a law degree from Yale. A prolific scholar of the American experience, Boorstin wrote more than 20 books and hundreds of scholarly articles. (A bibliography of his works runs 272 pages long.) The final book in his trilogy, The Americans, won the Pulitzer Prize. Prior to his appointment as librarian he was the senior historian and director of the National Museum of History and Technology at the Smithsonian Institution (now the National Museum of American History). The Senate confirmed him without debate.

Billington, librarian from 1987 to 2015, was also a Rhodes scholar. He earned his Ph.D. at Oxford and taught history at Harvard and Princeton for more than 15 years. He has authored five books and dozens of scholarly articles. Before his appointment as librarian, he served 14 years as the director of the Smithsonian’s Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Dr. Hayden, however, appears to be neither a scholar nor a historian. She has edited one book, “Venture into Cultures: A Resource Book of Multicultural Materials and Programs.” That 1992 publication is described as “an annotated bibliography of culturally diverse materials.”

According to President Obama, he has known Dr. Hayden “since her days working at the Chicago Public Library.”

The Librarians of Congress have been keepers of American memory, and public advocates for American cultural greatness. This is not a sinecure -- like the post of United States treasurer -- to be doled out to members of a politically favored demographic. It is not a patronage reward for friends of a president. And the appointment does not expire with Obama’s presidency. The next librarian could potentially serve for a decade, the statutory limit established under the Librarian of Congress Succession Modernization Act of 2015.

None of this is intended as a knock on Dr. Hayden. She may well have excelled at her previous and current jobs, and there may be jobs within the Library of Congress for which she is well-qualified -- just not this job. The post of librarian of Congress is of vital importance to the nation’s cultural and intellectual life. Whether someone is black, white, or any color in-between, or whether they are a woman or a man should not be a consideration at all in determining who is the best scholar to fill this post.

The first and only consideration should be whether that individual has the outstanding qualifications needed to be only the 14th librarian in our nation’s history to take over the reins of the nation’s premier historical, cultural, and research institution, a place where retired librarian James Billington says scholars and all Americans engage in “the unleashed, unlimited pursuit of truth.”

Before voting on Dr. Hayden’s confirmation, senators should think long and hard about whether the library should be pillar of scholarship or a monument to political correctness.