Politics and the Library of Congress

President Obama’s nominee for Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden, director of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, testified and took questions for an hour yesterday during a Senate hearing.

The general tone of the hearings were polite but underneath were simmering concerns related to the U.S. Copyright Office and the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

Asked if she would support a move to establish a copyright office separate from LC with its own director reporting directly to Congress, Hayden displayed what The Washington Post calls “polished political skills,” subtly indicating that she would work to find another solution, “I’m not able to at this point say that that would be the only way to accomplish what we all want.”

Author and copyright activist Cory Doctorow summarized the conflict on BoingBoing, pointing out:

“[the Library of Congress] Supervises the Copyright Office and sets the nation’s de facto IT policy … The RIAA [the trade group of the U.S. recording industry] has already gone on record as opposing Hayden’s nomination. The Hill people I know have told me that there’s concerted movement underway to rip the Copyright Office out of the LoC and put it under the supervision of Congressional committees whose members owe their position to generous contributions from the entertainment industry.”

Another hot button issue is the CRS. Dr. Hayden called the staff who work in that office “special forces” librarians but declined to commit to making public their reports to Congress public. They are currently available via private fee-based databases used by lobbyists. Senators Shelley Moore Capito and Amy Klobuchar were particularly concerned about the practice of taxpayer-funded documents being withheld from the public.

Less contentious but still a hot topic is the library’s IT infrastructure, with several of the Senators, but most pointedly Senator Angus King, raising the issue around user experience issues. Dr. Hayden responded to most IT inquires by sharing that LC had recently hired a new Chief Information Officer, Bernard A. Barton Jr., who served as chief information officer and deputy administrator of the Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC). She also shared her plans to improve digitization and access technology and her goal of making the collections more widely available to everyone regardless of geography. The Washington Post notes that “a federal report last year found widespread failure in [LC’s] technology, causing problems for the Copyright Office and services for disabled readers and wasting millions in taxpayer dollars.”

Finally, in a move that seems designed to make conservative Senators more comfortable about confirming Dr. Hayden, she was asked about ALA positions related to The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) and The Patriot Act. Again, her answers were carefully crafted. She responded to the CIPA question that there had “been quite a bit of just misinterpretation of [ALA’s] position during that time” pointing out the problems with early filtering technology and turning the question to her early career as a children’s librarian. Her response to the Patriot Act was that the library community was “concerned that in the quest for security and making sure that we were all safe that the public’s rights were also considered as well.” She continued that ALA “is very pleased at the progress that’s been made to balance security and personal rights.”

The committee is expected to vote on the nomination in the coming weeks and if it goes to the full Senate, that final vote would likely occur before the summer recess.

C-Span live-streamed the hearing, along with a transcript. Dr. Hayden’s opening statement is available online.

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