CILIP 2017 Conference: Dr Carla Hayden

It was a great honour to hear Dr Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress, give the first keynote of the CILIP 2017 conference. Carla is the first female and the first African-American to hold the office. She is only the third qualified librarian in the position in its 216 year history. She began her work as a children’s librarian.

Here are some of the main points of her inspiring address.

Carla began by saying that Librarianship is global. It’s mission is universal.

She visited the British Library at the weekend; she was impressed. She said it is the best of a public library with a major research library.

Speaking about her work place, the Library of Congress has 14,000 km of shelving. This would stretch from London to Vienna.

It’s surprising, but Carla hesitated about taking a role at the Library of Congress. It’s an incredible place but it’s quite imposing, not at all inviting. Having worked mainly in public libraries and with communities, she wondered how she could serve the public at the Librarian of Congress.

Carla was interviewed for the role by Barack Obama himself. It turned out he had a similar vision to Carla for the Library of Congress. He was interested in making it more accessible. He wanted everyone to see the amazing library treasures that he had seen.

Although they are not always popular with library staff, Carla feels that teenagers need librarians the most. Adolescence is the time you need someone outside your family to give you information and guidance.

Carla has a great deal of respect for the technical know-how of young people. She believes that younger tech-savvy staff working side-by-side with more established staff – who have traditional skills and knowledge – is the perfect combination. This will help bridge the generational and the digital divide. In libraries, this is our ‘wheelhouse’.

Carla’s calls to action:
– Remember that librarians are the original search engines. Librarians are trusted by the community. She added, wryly, that the Library Profession is also one of the most stereotyped.
– We should think about accessibility in as many ways as we can. How can we make our spaces welcoming?
– Libraries are lifelines for communities.
– Engage as wide an audience as possible. Use technology for traditional library events e.g. live streaming author talks.
– Encourage people to be as creative as they can be themselves. Provide learning spaces.

When Nick Poole, Chief Executive of CILIP, wrapped up the session, it felt like Carla was just getting warmed up. She said she would have liked to chat with the audience all day. I believed her. As one of the conference delegates Tweeted, Carla Hayden is a superstar librarian.


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