White House Makes Commercial to Pitch Obama's Unqualified Library of Congress Nominee

In her commercial, Hayden does seem to allude -- once -- to research:

We talk about libraries as being the original treasure chest. You can involve yourself in knowledge from years and years ago.

Those are general and unremarkable arguments implying “libraries are good.” They are not compelling and sophisticated ones that qualify the speaker to be librarian of Congress.

President Obama made it clear that race and gender were at the core of this appointment. In her commercial, Hayden spoke of it too:

Being the first female, and the first African-American, really brings together two aspects of, of course, my life that make this even more significant I think in terms of how people view the future of libraries, and what a national library can be. It’s inclusive, it can be part of everyone’s story.

In other words, it’s all about identity.

The White House commercial on Carla Hayden’s behalf is striking for its lack of even a single mention of the Library of Congress’s most important mission: research and scholarship in the service of the public. Serious scholarship is in the Library of Congress’s very DNA: Thomas Jefferson’s foundational collection was the working collection of a scholar, and from its original roots the Library of Congress has become an enormous engine of research and scholarly discovery -- too important to be left in the inexperienced hands of a research novice.

Carla Hayden’s lack of digital experience and expertise also reveals a dangerous shortcoming in her ability to lead the Library of Congress in the 21st century. The world’s two largest libraries by collection size are the Library of Congress and the British Library. Each has universal collections, and their shared mission in the new millennium is increasingly electronic and virtual; here are signal programs launched by the Library of Congress in just the past two decades: Thomas.gov, Congress.gov (each vital for legislative support), and the National Digital Library, which provides free access online to digitized American history and culture resources with curatorial explanations for digital K-12 education.

The British Library operates analogous programs, and when it chose its own new director three years ago, it wisely selected a professional with solid experience in running a large institution’s digital resources: Roly Keating, the BBC’s controller of digital channels and director of archive content. Keating is now leading the British Library in a successful series of innovative digital programs, garnering international acclaim, and establishing the British Library as the world’s leading digital cultural institution.

Ms. Hayden’s capabilities to undertake anything similar for the Library of Congress appear to be absent; her rudimentary online efforts up until now give the impression of a balky floppy disk in an age of global cloud services.

In today’s digital world, a vital test of management skill for any large information enterprise is securing its data and online services. Yet a security review of Ms. Hayden’s current institution reveals that the password for the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s “epfl-wpa” wireless network is actually disclosed openly on the EPFL website.

This risks the security of not only the Library’s network and resources, but also the laptops and mobile devices of every library patron who logs in at the library.

A recent Washington Post article lauding Hayden’s nomination gushes that if confirmed by the Senate, “the next Librarian of Congress is likely to have tremendous say over our technological future.” That is so, claims the Post, because the Library controls the Copyright Office.

What exactly qualifies Dr. Hayden to chart America’s technological future, no one can say. The principal arguments that the Post cites in support of her nomination seem to boil down to vague talk and clichéd slogans about Hayden’s interest in “promoting public access to the Internet,” and her alleged expertise in “updating library systems for the digital age.” Indeed, according to President Obama, Hayden’s principal qualification for the job -- in addition, of course, to her race and gender -- is her interest in “modernizing libraries so that everyone can participate in today’s digital culture.”

If the Senate does its due diligence, it should seek outside experts from the IT world to examine whether Dr. Hayden is really a “technology expert” qualified to set national policy.

What is really going on with this nomination? The title of an admiring article in the leftist magazine The Nation says it all:

This Radical Librarian May Soon Run the World’s Largest Library

Maybe so. But Congress -- not just the Senate, but the House of Representatives, too -- just might have a thing or two to say about who runs the illustrious library that bears its name.