President Obama Nominates New Librarian Of Congress Who Supports Open Access, Fights Against Surveillance

from the this-looks-good dept

So here's a pleasant surprise. President Obama has nominated Carla Hayden as the new Librarian of Congress, and at a first glance, she looks perfect for the job. The job is super important for a whole variety of reasons, including that the Librarian of Congress controls the Copyright Office (more on that in a bit...). The former Librarian of Congress, James Billington, was really bad. He apparently was mostly focused on hobnobbing with rich people in fancy places around the globe than doing anything useful. A report by the Government Accountability Office found a massive leadership vacuum with Billington when it came to technology issues, noting that he basically ignored technology entirely. When Billington announced he was retiring, the Washington Post reported that employees were absolutely elated:
The reaction inside the library was almost gleeful, as one employee joked that some workers were thinking of organizing a conga line down Pennsylvania Avenue. Another said it felt like someone opened a window.

“There is a general sense of relief, hope and renewal, all rolled into one feeling,” said one staffer who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. “Like a great weight has been lifted from our shoulders.”

Maureen Moore, who retired in 2005 but volunteers at the library, said she and her friends were thrilled.

“It’s a great day for the library. The man has had 27 years to do good things, and he hasn’t,” she said.
That line is great: The man has had 27 years to do good things, and he hasn't. But, right after that, that same Maureen Moore noted what many people feared: what if the replacement was worse and didn't actually understand the key issues of the day: "But the ecstasy is tempered by worry that Obama will appoint someone else who isn’t a librarian, someone who doesn’t have management experience or another megalomaniac."

There had been a lot of speculation about who might be nominated, but it seemed tough to find people with the right qualifications. Someone who actually was a librarian, who had real management experience with a large organization and someone who actually understood the issues.

And at a first glance, Hayden seems perfect. For a while now, she's been CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Balitmore, and by all accounts has done an amazing job modernizing that system. It's also good to see that the President's announcement directly calls out her support of open access to information:
Her understanding of the pivotal role that emerging technologies play in libraries will be essential in leading the Library of Congress as it continues to modernize its infrastructure and promote open access and full participation in today's digital world.
The video that comes with the announcement also focuses quite a bit on free and open access to information and the role of the Library of Congress in encouraging that:

Today, I'm nominating Dr. Carla Hayden to be our 14th Librarian of Congress. Michelle and I have known Carla since her days working at the Chicago Public Library, and her dedication to learning and education is unparalleled. More recently, she's been hard at work revitalizing Baltimore’s struggling library system as the CEO of Enoch Pratt Free Library. Last year, during the unrest in Baltimore, Dr. Hayden kept the doors of the Pratt open as a beacon for the community. Her understanding of the pivotal role that emerging technologies play in libraries will be essential in leading the Library of Congress as it continues to modernize its infrastructure and promote open access and full participation in today's digital world. Finally, Dr. Hayden will be the first woman and the first African-American to hold this position in its 214 year history – both of which are long overdue.I hope you'll take a couple minutes to watch this video and meet Carla for yourself. I have no doubt she'll make a fantastic Librarian of Congress.

Posted by President Obama on Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Beyond that, Hayden was one of the leading voices speaking out against surveillance. As President of the American Library Association at the time when the PATRIOT Act was being debated, she was vocal in opposition, especially to Section 215, which was used to create the phone metadata program that Ed Snowden revealed. What many people forget is that it was the librarians who were most vocal about Section 215 when it was first proposed, as many people thought it would be used to demand things like library records to see what was being checked out -- and librarians are big supporters of privacy.

She's also spoken out for years about the value of free access to information. Here's a 2003 profile of Hayden in Ms. Magazine (where she was named Woman of the Year) in which she notes:
“Libraries are a cornerstone of democracy—where information is free and equally available to everyone. People tend to take that for granted,” says Hayden. “And they don’t realize what is at stake when that is put at risk.”
From that same profile:
Hayden’s stance against the PATRIOT Act is part and parcel of her vision of the library as an integral element of democracy. “We serve the underserved,” Hayden says. “When libraries fight against the PATRIOT Act, or against [mandatory Internet filters], we’re fighting for the public. Most of the people who use public libraries don’t have the opportunity to buy books at a bookstore or on Amazon.com. What the library does is protect the rights of all people to fully and freely access information and to pursue knowledge, without fear of repercussion.”
Of course, the best recommendation may be the fear already coming out of the RIAA, who put out a fairly ridiculous statement in response:
“It is worth noting that the Library of Congress and the U.S. Copyright Office have been mutually respectful of each other’s areas of expertise. We would hope that the new Librarian would continue to demonstrate that respect for the Copyright Office’s expertise in copyright policy and recommendations to Congress.”
In other words "don't mess with the Copyright Office." Of course, what this really is about is the current and ongoing fight over what to do to "modernize" the Copyright Office. There's a big push from the MPAA and the RIAA to move the Copyright Office out of the Library of Congress and either merge it into the US Patent and Trademark Office, or make it a stand alone agency. That's all part of the decades-long whitewashing of the history of copyright, to pretend that it's not about benefiting the public with more access to information, but rather about protecting a particular industry. That fight will only take on more prominence as a result of this nomination.

Of course, there's also the question of whether or not the Senate will approve the nomination. Obviously, there are different stakes involved, but everyone lately has been talking about whether or not the Senate will even hold hearings on President Obama's expected Supreme Court nomination. And the (totally bullshit) argument against it is "well, this is an election year, and we should let the public decide who the President will be, and then let that President choose a nominee." That's silly for a whole bunch of reasons, and without the SCOTUS backdrop no one would think twice about considering the LOC nominee. However, given all the statements being made, I could see some in the Senate argue that they can't consider any nominees for anything, just to appear to remain consistent.

And, of course, some are actually wondering if her vocal opposition to the PATRIOT Act will somehow get in the way of her appointment. I guess that's possible, but if so, it would be crazy, because she was absolutely right, and Congress itself has now updated Section 215 after Ed Snowden revealed how it was being abused.

Either way, this appears to be a fantastic nomination and I hope it does go smoothly, and that it leads to not just a modernized Library of Congress, but a modernized Copyright Office as well --and by that I mean one that doesn't just focus on doing the bidding of a few legacy industry players, but actually on serving the public interest.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 24th, 2016 @ 1:19pm

    I worked at the Enoch Pratt Free Library

    And while I don't agree with everything she did, she really is all that.

    And YES it's about damn time that someone other than a white middle-aged male ran the LoC.

    Signed,
    a white middle-aged male

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 24th, 2016 @ 1:32pm

    "And the (totally bullshit) argument against it is "well, this is an election year, and we should let the public decide who the President will be, and then let that President choose a nominee."

    Yes, it's a stupid argument, and extending it to the Library of Congress is even stupider (not that anyone has, thus far). But when Biden was the Senate judiciary committee chairman in 1992, he said, "If someone steps down, I would highly recommend the President not name someone, not send a name up". Obama wasn't even a state senator yet at that point, but I don't have a hard time believing that he would have taken the same attitude.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 24th, 2016 @ 1:33pm

    Re: I worked at the Enoch Pratt Free Library

    What? The person's physical attributes have absolutely nothing to do with the Library of Congress or why this appointment is so unprecedented and amazing.

    Troll elsewhere.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Jessamyn, Feb 24th, 2016 @ 1:39pm

    She is a terrific person and the library community in general is excited about this appointment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 24th, 2016 @ 1:45pm

    Re: I worked at the Enoch Pratt Free Library

    "And YES it's about damn time that someone other than a white middle-aged male ran the LoC."

    The previous librarian was 86, so really we haven't had a middle-aged one for a couple of decades.

    Does it really matter whether the librarian is a male or a female, black or white? Is that really going to be your criteria?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Feb 24th, 2016 @ 1:46pm

    Re:

    If that argument is allowed to stand, then every President will be a lame duck the moment they are sworn in...unless they get re-elected when they will become a lame duck as soon as they are sworn in.

    Under such a regimen no office or judge could be appointed, no presidential initiative could be instigated, etc. simply because the opposite party sits in opposition. I am no longer sure the opposite party actually needs to be in the majority.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Feb 24th, 2016 @ 2:44pm

    Re:

    Yes, it's a stupid argument, and extending it to the Library of Congress is even stupider (not that anyone has, thus far). But when Biden was the Senate judiciary committee chairman in 1992, he said, "If someone steps down, I would highly recommend the President not name someone, not send a name up". Obama wasn't even a state senator yet at that point, but I don't have a hard time believing that he would have taken the same attitude.

    Sure. I have no doubt that if the parties were reversed, the other side would be making the same stupid argument. It's clearly a stupid political argument and it's a stupid political argument no matter which party is making it, so not even sure why you felt the need to bring up the parties. I didn't.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 24th, 2016 @ 3:07pm

    And the (totally bullshit) argument against it is "well, this is an election year, and we should let the public decide who the President will be, and then let that President choose a nominee." That's silly for a whole bunch of reasons,

    The first being: That's true from the day the person is elected to office. And no less true of senators than of presidents.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 24th, 2016 @ 3:10pm

    Re:

    ... and I was scooped on the comment even as I was typing it. Bah.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Whig, Feb 24th, 2016 @ 8:28pm

    Re: Re:political parties

    That's the deal. Why does it always devolve to my party or the highway?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    That One Guy (profile), Feb 24th, 2016 @ 9:58pm

    The best possible recommendation

    If either of the *AA's hate something, it's certain to be good for the public.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 25th, 2016 @ 12:16am

    Too little, too late.
    I fear that Obama did this a s a PR stunt to try and gain some goodwill / wash some guilt off. Either way it's out of his hands now as he can't become president again.

    When Clinton or Trump (or whoever else) wins they'll take a shot at pushing a new nominee which will most likely be more aligned with RIAA/MPAA and their worldview.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 25th, 2016 @ 5:13am

    Idiocracy, what was once satire is now a documentary.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, Feb 25th, 2016 @ 6:01am

    Re: Re: Re:political parties

    To polarise discussion. It's a call to arms, and those who do not pick a side get clobbered for it. They then use shaming to keep people in line. This happens to me when I say I'm conservative, then criticise a right-wing policy position, in which case I'm told, "You must be a liberal socialist!"

    It's undemocratic, tyrannous, and antithetical to promoting personal freedom. /end rant.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Feb 25th, 2016 @ 7:26am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:political parties

    Hear hear!

    I honestly believe that a largely irrelevant cultural battle between the "right" and the "left" is intentionally perpetuated in order to distract us all from the political divisions that actually matter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    SortingHat, Feb 25th, 2016 @ 8:05am

    Dammit we keep forgetting that Bush started this snowball mess. Oops.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    SortingHat, Feb 25th, 2016 @ 8:06am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:political parties

    Your experience is exactly the same as mine. Are you a part of me?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    SortingHat, Feb 25th, 2016 @ 8:07am

    Re: Re: Re:political parties

    Because that's the new American doctrine since the 1930s slowly creeping into our universities at that time then our schools which takes a few gens for full effect.

    Now with video games to keep us dumb it's easier now then ever to control the crowd who don't know or care they are being controlled as long as feel good words are used.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    SortingHat, Feb 25th, 2016 @ 8:09am

    Re:

    I didn't think of that but good point. He probably knows a false flag may be coming that could shut down elections entirely and it won't matter for most people as we will be killing each other to survive for one measly coin so he is not worried in the slightest.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Tekne Yat, Feb 25th, 2016 @ 9:13am

    Obama vs Donald

    All the muslims like Obama. Trump is new bad castle for muslims. I think, Trump looser in this case. But maybe he can change his opinion.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 25th, 2016 @ 9:24am

    YES

    It is great that someone public oriented and qualified is being appointed.

    I don't care what genetics they have. I'm proud to proclaim: I never have nor ever will vote for or against ANYONE on basis of skin color, origin or gender. All that matters is the ability to do the best job.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Nick, Feb 25th, 2016 @ 9:42am

    Hayden

    It doesn't say but can we also assume that Dr Hayden isn't "another megalomaniac"?
    Brilliant stuff.

    Only one worry: she's not related to Michael Hayden is she?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Bill Stewart, Feb 25th, 2016 @ 11:48am

    Are you saying "Idiocracy" because....

    Are you referencing Idiocracy because you're racist, or because you think having a librarian in charge of the Library of Congress is some kind of incestuous thing, or because you're in favor of replacing the books with Betamax tapes of the "Ow, My Balls!" show?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Bill Stewart, Feb 25th, 2016 @ 11:57am

    Re: Re: I worked at the Enoch Pratt Free Library

    Surprisingly, sometimes a person's physical attributes reflect what social groups they're part of. Having a Librarian of Congress who's got a different background can not only affect what gets collected that wasn't being collected before, or who can get convenient access to the LoC, but having a Librarian of Congress who's actually a librarian, and who's dealt with actual library users, and who has a clue about the Internet as something other than a content distribution system for corporate publishing houses? That could be radical.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    bob, Feb 27th, 2016 @ 4:45pm

    Re: Re: Re: I worked at the Enoch Pratt Free Library

    "having a Librarian of Congress who's actually a librarian" is a very good point! We haven't had an actual librarian as Librarian of Congress in over forty years (Quincy Mumford).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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