The grand finale to the informative (and well-attended) 2017 Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) conference was the closing keynote address by Dr. Carla Hayden. Dr. Hayden arrived 45 minutes early to individually greet librarians queued in the aisles with smart phones in hand for a photo with the Librarian of Congress. For the more than 3,000 librarians in attendance, Hayden’s comments about her plans to make the Library of Congress “America’s Library,” to greatly increase access to the treasures of the Library and to open the Library on Sundays (gasp!) struck a chord. One excited librarian said: “She is our rock star.” Yes, she is.
Already a cultural hero for keeping the Enoch Pratt Free Library branch open to the public during the Freddie Gray riots in Baltimore, for standing up to U.S. Attorney General Ashcroft and the surveillance provisions of the USA Patriot Act and for mentoring scores of librarians throughout her career, Dr. Hayden’s humility shone through when she talked about her decision to serve as the Librarian of Congress. It was not an easy decision. She wondered if she could affect change in the lives of people every day, like she felt she could as a librarian. She wanted to maintain her public spirit in this new role and not be just a figure head who raised funds and attended posh dinners. She wanted to serve.
Hayden accepted her appointment with the goal to increase access to the Library’s collections across the nation through digitization and by making the Library more public facing. You still won’t be able to borrow books, but you will soon see the some of the largest collection of comic books at Comic Con because the Library will be there. Accessibility to the National Library Service for the Blind and Handicapped will greatly increase access for people with disabilities. The Library will be a service hub to the Digital Public Library of America. And yes, the Library will open for storytelling.
Dr. Hayden encouraged the audience to revel in the public’s perception of librarians as trustworthy in the era of fake news. She repeated a conversation she had with a library patron who said that at present, “librarians are having a moment.” Whether you call it cyber hygiene or information literacy, librarians are having a moment to make the world a better place
During the Q-and-A session, a retired librarian who attended the first ACRL conference in 1978 and many thereafter said Dr. Hayden was the liveliest speaker that ACRL has ever had and that her presence was inspirational and invigorating. It was that kind of closing session—smiles, laughter, a couple of standing ovations and a group of librarians dancing on the stage as the audience left the auditorium.