The Copyright Office
Perhaps the biggest battle looming for Hayden
will revolve around the copyright issues, and
specifically, the future of the Copyright Office,
which falls under the Librarian’s leadership.
Last year, two legislators introduced a
controversial proposal to remove the Copyright
Office from under the purview of the Library of
Congress and to establish it as an independent
agency. Everyone agrees that the Copyright Office
needs more funding and a significant technological
upgrade. But, while publishers and authors have
publicly supported the idea of an independent
Regardless, copyright issues and copyright reform are going
to hit the agenda at some point for Congress, and that could
put Hayden in a tricky spot between two powerful lobbies–
Hollywood and the creative industries on one side, and
technology companies on the other. And then, of course, there
is the public interest, as well.
For those who would like to see the Librarian of Congress
take more of a leadership role on critical information age issues,
just consider the long list of thorny litigation, legislation and
policy fights that have erupted over the last decade. Imagine the
Librarian of Congress–as a political appointee–weighing in on
issues like the ill-fated bill SOPA (the Stop Online Policy Act),
or on open access to federally funded research (which is
generally opposed by the publishing community).
And for those who criticized the library’s slow pace of
digitisation under Billington, imagine the political fallout if
the Library of Congress had joined forces with or even voiced
support for Google as it scanned out-of-print books. Can
anyone see a politically appointed Librarian of Congress
weighing in for the public–or worse, against the public–on
any of these issues, without facing political retribution?
Term limits vs. gridlock
Yet another first for Hayden: she is the first Librarian of Congress
to be term-limited at 10 years (although she can be reappointed).
Traditionally, the post had no limit, and it grew to become a lifetime
appointment. But while proponents see the term limit as guarding
against a Librarian being surpassed by developments in the
information world–for example, Billington in the internet age–will
its real effect be to dissuade the best and brightest from serving?
Hayden will be the test. A highly respected, qualified and
experienced leader, if she proves deft at navigating the political
challenges of leading the library forward in a complex digital age–
and through the hardening political gridlock–the term limit likely
won’t matter. But if her appointment has shown anything, it is that
politics have now reached the library. If Hayden is blocked at every
turn, ask yourself this: who would ever take the job again? ■
When Carla Hayden was sworn in last month as
the 14th US Librarian of Congress, she became
the first woman, and the first African American
ever to hold the post. It was an important
moment, which Hayden acknowledged in her
remarks after the ceremony. “As a descendant
of people who were denied the right to read,”
Hayden said, “to now have the opportunity to
serve and lead the institution that is our national
symbol of knowledge is a historic moment.”
Hayden’s historic moment, however, almost
didn’t happen. It’s no secret that the political
landscape in the US has become fractured almost
to the point of dysfunction. But after a group of anonymous,
ultra-conservative Senators (spurred on by an ultra-conservative
think tank called the Heritage Foundation) nearly derailed
Hayden’s nomination, politics, for the first time, had reached
the Librarian of Congress. And given those political realities,
life is not going to get any easier for Hayden, now that she has
won her first battle, and been sworn in.
In fact, a number of significant issues loom for Hayden at the
Library of Congress–issues that will have a significant impact,
not only on the institution itself, but on the publishing, tech and
creative industries as well. The world will be watching.
You can add another first to Hayden’s historic appointment: she
is the first Librarian of Congress to be appointed in the internet
era. Hayden succeeds James Billington, who was appointed by
Ronald Reagan in 1987. Without question, much has changed in
the world of libraries, publishing and information technology
since 1987–so what does it will mean for Hayden, to be the
first librarian appointed in the digital age?
First, she faces a challenge in upgrading the libraries internal
technology. Over the past decade, the library has faced mounting
criticism for mismanagement and technological blundering.
During Hayden’s confirmation hearing in April, Senator Roy
Blunt acknowledged the library was “struggling, really, to adapt
to a new century”. And a 2015 report from the US Government
Accountability Office (GAO) identified widespread information-
technology weaknesses. In a New York Times article last June,
Joel C Willemssen, the author of that GAO report, specifically
called out Billington for not having the “necessary skills” to
lead the library in the digital age.
In her post-swearing in remarks, Hayden acknowledged her
role as the first Librarian of Congress for whom the internet–
not books–will be at the centre of the universe. Noting that
her ceremony was being streamed live online, said she was
“overwhelmed with the possibilities” offered by technology to
expand the reach of the library beyond its traditional mission.
Now, will Congress give her the latitude, and more
importantly, the resources, to do so?
andrew albanese asks if politics will paralyse the US Library of Congress
Politics and the us library of congress