Carla D. Hayden, the longtime director of Baltimore's public library system, glided through the Senate committee hearing Wednesday on her nomination to lead the Library of Congress.
Sen. Roy Blunt, the Missouri Republican who chairs the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, said the director of the library system in Ferguson, Mo., told him Hayden was "a personal hero" and "the most capable individual possible to run the Library of Congress."
Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the committee's top Democrat, told Hayden he had "no doubt about your qualifications."
Hayden was introduced by Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Ben Cardin and former Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, all Maryland Democrats. They praised her 20 years of management of the Enoch Pratt Free Library and what they said was her commitment to making libraries more accessible to everyone.
"Her nomination is bittersweet," Mikulski said. "It will be a great, great gain for the nation, but it will be a loss for Baltimore."
The 214-year-old Library of Congress has a budget of $618 million, a workforce of more than 3,000 employees and a collection of more than 162 million items. Hayden, 63, would be the first African-American to lead the institution.
The Cross Keys resident told the panel of her efforts to modernize the Pratt and expand Internet access to all Marylanders, and pledged to do the same with the Library of Congress.
She said she would expand access to the library for the blind and disabled, and for people in rural America who might never have the opportunity to visit the library, located across the street from the Capitol in Washington.
That would include putting online documents, such as original papers by Abraham Lincoln and Alexander Hamilton, and sending exhibits on the road to visit schools and museums, as the Smithsonian does.
Hayden faced questions about how she would manage the nation's copyright office, which is under the purview of the Library of Congress.
As the daughter of a recording artist, Hayden said, she understood the "blood, sweat and soul" that goes into creating art, and would work hard to protect it.
She said educating younger generations on how copyright works is crucial.
Hayden came to Baltimore in 1993 after rising to the No. 2 position at the Chicago Public Library.
She publicly quarreled with then-Attorney General John Ashcroft over the Patriot Act in 2003, when she was president of the American Library Association. She objected to allowing federal authorities to look at library borrowing records to identify potential terrorists.
"It was a time of great apprehension," Hayden said. "People were going into libraries that were looking for all the different aspects of what was going on" following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The government had confused interest with intent, she said.
Hayden also explained the association's objection to the Children's Internet Protection Act in 2000, which she said would have prevented young readers from being able to view important health information, such as breast cancer research.
She said librarians across the country are pursuing other measures to bar explicit materials from libraries, such as keeping computers in public view.
President Barack Obama nominated Hayden in February to a 10-year term that could be renewed by future presidents.
Obama praised her decision to keep the library open during the unrest that followed the death of Freddie Gray last year, and described the system as a "beacon for the community."
The committee did not vote Wednesday on whether to confirm Hayden.
She would succeed James H. Billington, a Reagan appointee who retired last fall after 28 years in the job. She would be the 14th librarian of Congress.
"Of all the titles I've had in my professional career," Hayden said, "I'm most proud to be called a librarian."