The longtime leader of Baltimore's public library system was confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday to head the Library of Congress despite concerns from some conservative lawmakers about her past position on a law intended to limit children's access to pornography at schools and libraries.
Carla D. Hayden, the CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library since 1993, will become the first woman and the first African-American to oversee the nation's largest library. Hayden was nominated by President Barack Obama in February and was confirmed by the Senate on a 74-18 vote.
"She moved the Enoch Pratt into the digital age," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat. "She's a transformational leader."
Despite politically sensitive challenges facing the 216-year-old Library of Congress, including criticism that it has not kept pace with technology, Hayden's nomination initially was uncontroversial. Republicans and Democrats applauded her appointment, she sailed through her confirmation hearing in April and was unanimously approved by the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration last month.
But in recent weeks, conservative groups and bloggers had expressed concern about Hayden's opposition to the Children's Internet Protection Act, a 2000 law that requires libraries to use filters to block access to pornography.
Hayden had opposed the law, arguing that filtering technology available at the time could inadvertently block access to legitimate material.
The issue came up briefly at her confirmation hearing. Hayden told lawmakers she believes that online pornography has no place at a library.
Some criticized the White House for naming a librarian to the post rather than a scholar and said the Obama administration overemphasized Hayden's race.
"The post of librarian of Congress is of vital importance to the nation's cultural and intellectual life. Whether someone is black, white, or any color in-between, or whether they are a woman or a man should not be a consideration at all in determining who is the best scholar to fill this post," Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation wrote this year.
Democratic sources said several Republican senators had placed a hold on Hayden's confirmation, blocking its progress. With days to go before the Senate is to recess for the political conventions, Mikulski and Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland sought — and ultimately won — an agreement to allow a vote on the floor.
"Dr. Hayden has been a cultural treasure to our city and a longtime, passionate defender of America's libraries," Cardin said. "In the case of Dr. Hayden's historic confirmation, Baltimore's loss is America's gain."
Hayden, 63, of Cross Keys, was widely credited with advancing technology at the 22-branch Enoch Pratt system, itself a historic institution. She boosted the number of computers available to patrons and rapidly expanded the library's electronic book collection when e-reader technology was still in its infancy.
"It has been my privilege to serve the citizens of Baltimore for 23 years and help restore the Enoch Pratt Free Library as a world-renowned institution," Hayden said. "I will be honored to build on the legacy and accomplishments of my predecessors in this position, to be part of a continuing movement to open the treasure chest that is the Library of Congress even further and to make it a place that can be found and used by everyone."
Hayden will succeed James H. Billington, a Ronald Reagan appointee who retired last fall after 28 years on the job. Obama signed legislation last year that limits the term of librarians to 10 years, ending the practice of lifetime appointments.
Hayden will be the 14th librarian of Congress.
Though her nomination stalled for several weeks, she ultimately was confirmed at a time when many Obama nominees, including dozens of nominees for the federal bench, remain blocked. At the top of that list is Merrick Garland, whom Obama nominated in March to the Supreme Court.
Sen. Roy Blunt, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, supported her confirmation.
"She has the experience and the capacity and the personality to really move the library into the 21st century," the Missouri Republican said.
The Baltimore Sun contacted the offices of the 18 Republicans who opposed her confirmation. None responded.
Hayden, a former president of the American Library Association, captured national attention more than a decade ago for a public spat with then-Attorney General John Ashcroft over the Patriot Act.
Hayden — and other librarians, and privacy advocates — objected to a provision that allowed federal authorities to look at library borrowing records to identify potential terrorists.
But that partisan brouhaha was barely raised at her hearing. The most pointed questions Hayden received at the time were focused on the U.S. Copyright Office, which has faced criticism from independent auditors. Leaders of the agency have called on Congress to separate it from the rest of the library.
Hayden came to Baltimore in 1993 after rising to the No. 2 position at the Chicago Public Library. It was in Chicago that she became acquainted with the Obamas.
She is overseeing the first major renovation of Baltimore's 83-year-old central library on Cathedral Street — an undertaking that she has said will help push the institution into the digital age.
The Library of Congress, which serves lawmakers, federal agencies and the public, has a collection of more than 162 million items and adds 12,000 each day. The library houses the largest rare-book collection in North America, the papers of 23 presidents, and two manuscript copies of the Gettysburg Address.
At the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Hayden has managed 500 employees and a $40 million budget. The Library of Congress has more than 3,000 employees and a budget of $618 million.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, said Hayden had "transformed an aging system into a world-class institution" and predicted she would "uphold the rich traditions of the Library of Congress while bringing innovation and creating leadership to a national treasure."