White House Makes Commercial to Pitch Obama's Unqualified Library of Congress Nominee
In his statement nominating Carla Hayden to become the librarian of Congress, President Obama didn’t even try to sell Dr. Hayden as a distinguished scholar, author, historian, or public intellectual. The president had no choice. Any claim that Hayden possessed credentials that match those of her distinguished predecessors over the last 40 years would have been dismissed as false.
The video commercial about Hayden that the White House released the same day also made no such claims. And yes, you read that right: the White House produced a political, campaign-style commercial touting her candidacy: “I’m Carla Hayden, a nominee to be the 14th Librarian of Congress,” she announces.
The camera follows Hayden as she walks through the Baltimore public library and greets patrons standing at a card catalog (does the library still use printed catalog cards?). The camera pans to men standing in front of a row of desktop computers as they presumably apply for jobs online. Then the commercial shows blighted neighborhoods in Baltimore.
This seems unprecedented. There appears to be no other case in which a presidential nominee has actually appeared in an ad to lobby the Senate for her confirmation.
Who produced it, what did it cost, and who paid for it? The American taxpayer? Why was it made?
The answer to the last question is obvious. The mere existence of the commercial is a tip-off that the White House knows Hayden is a weak candidate who lacks the credentials that the public -- and, more importantly, the United States Congress (it is, after all, the Library of Congress) -- have come to expect from a librarian of Congress. Thus, Obama handlers have tried to boost the odds of winning confirmation through an unprecedented public relations stunt.
That was unwise, for the video turns out to be more revealing than the White House could have imagined. Indeed, Hayden’s own words make a compelling case against her confirmation. Her misguided vision for the Library is simplistic, wrong-headed, and alarming.
In her White House video, Hayden describes her experience in Baltimore:
The neighborhood libraries were opportunity centers. An opportunity to get the latest Harry Potter as soon as it came out, a place that you could apply for a job … and a place that you could find that step up in your life.
That statement reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of the Library of Congress (LOC). Hayden seems to think of the LOC as just another neighborhood branch library, merely on a larger scale. It isn’t. The LOC is not a local library that loans books to the public.
No one can check out “the latest Harry Potter,” or for that matter any book, from the LOC.
Nor is the LOC an online job-search center. Again, local libraries can do this, as they have apparently done in Baltimore. Nor is the Library of Congress the place “to find that step up in your life” -- whatever that means.
It sounds like Hayden is lobbying for another term as president of the American Library Association, not the position of librarian of Congress.
Hayden claims the Library of Congress “epitomizes what libraries are in every community.” Hayden is wrong. The LOC does not “epitomize” what every community library is, nor should it be treated as a community library. It is a unique institution with several specific and special missions that is not like other libraries.
First, it serves the research needs of its principal client, the United States Congress. The scholarly research that the library staff produces for members of the House of Representatives and the Senate on an annual basis is enormous.
Second, it serves as one of the finest research libraries in the world for American scholars and for international scholars who travel here. That is one of the many reasons why, for the last forty years, the librarians of Congress have been important scholars and historians in their own right.
Third, the LOC’s mission is to preserve its vast holdings for future generations.
Neither President Obama’s nominating statement nor Dr. Hayden’s comment says one word about her ability to sponsor and inspire cutting-edge research; about her ability to attract scholars from around the world to the Library of Congress; about her ability to enhance the collections in content and subject matter; about her plans for innovative conferences, symposia, and exhibitions; or her plans to revive the National Book Festival, the LOC’s signature event, which has suffered cutbacks and decline during the Obama administration; or her willingness to embrace the LOC’s mission to promote American cultural greatness.
But Hayden does talk about things she has done that have nothing to do with the mission of the Library of Congress. She speaks about how the Baltimore library responded to the riots and racial disturbances there:
During the recent unrest in Baltimore, it was very evident that people needed not only information, but a safe place and a trusted place to go and so … we decided to open the library right across from the epicenter of the unrest … we became a site for people to actually get food, to get supplies … and so it became that community meeting place, and people were so relieved to have a safe place to be.
This was an admirable act of community service by Dr. Hayden. But this is not the job description of the librarian of Congress. It is the job description of a community organizer. That might qualify Dr. Hayden to become the first director of the Obama Presidential Library, but not to become the head of America’s leading research and cultural institution.