Carla Hayden, soon to be the director of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, sounds like our kind of librarian. She likes books and understands their importance in society. This at a time when too many librarians and library critics seem to believe that computers, videos and other non-book materials are really what libraries need to be pushing, and at a time when too many political and governmental leaders believe that libraries have to be starved for funds for the sake of more immediately "vital" services such as firefighting and police.
Dr. Hayden has said this about all that:
"Libraries have always been comfortable places for me. So have bookstores. I curl up with the latest mystery at 9 or 10 at night after a busy day here."
"Here" is Chicago where she is now the chief librarian. As to the importance of books, she has said this: "Always remember that we save lives, too; only we do it on a long term basis by trying to make a difference in others' lives through books."
This does not mean she is too old-fashioned to meet today's needs. She has also said that a public library is "more than books." But she emphasized the role of the library as "the people's university," which ultimately gets back to the basics of learning and of books.
Dr. Hayden has excellent credentials. She has a master's and doctorate in library science from the University of Chicago. She taught at the graduate level at the University of Pittsburgh. She is not only chief librarian in Chicago, but also first deputy library commissioner of the Chicago Public Library. She apparently could have had the library commissioner's job there, but prefers running the Pratt.
It's going to be quite a challenge. This once-magnificent library is in trouble. It doesn't get the funds it needs to do its job. Its staff is demoralized, after a years-long feud involving the last director and the board of trustees. Its physical plant, especially some of the branch buildings, is down at the heels. Its books collection is not keeping up with the publishing industry's output. Readership (circulation) is pathetic.
So why would she come? Well, politics in Chicago is fierce. There are union problems. Readership is only slightly higher than here. A smaller percentage of Chicagoans than Baltimoreans have library cards. And Chicago Public's book buying budget recently suffered a severe reduction (after a big increase that seems to have been sadly misused). So for a librarian, the City of the Big Shoulders was not exactly an ideal place. We welcome and wish Dr. Hayden well here. Maybe she can get The City That Reads reading.