'Superstar Librarian' Carla Hayden opened this year's CILIP Conference with a keynote speech that was her call to action for librarians to put accessibility at the heart of everything they do.
Appointed as the 14th Librarian of Congress earlier this year, she now heads up the world's largest library and has become the closest thing to a celebrity the library world has - a fact highlighted by the queues that formed for selfies with her after her keynote. The fact that she is the first woman, the first African American, and the only the third professional librarian to hold the post has helped to secure her place as one of the information profession's true superstars.
In her keynote to a packed auditorium at CILIP Conference in Manchester she talked about her own career and how her background as a public librarian will help shape the future of Library of Congress. The library holds a collection of 164 million items, but many are out of bounds and inaccessible. Carla wants to change that and says every librarian should be working to connect people to information and collections.
She said the essence of librarianship is no longer about being a custodian of collections, protecting and preserving items. Instead libraries need to be accessible to all so that information can be accessible to all. Part of her role is to open up the Library of Congress, make it more welcoming and ensure everyone has access to its collections.
She said: 'Part of the reason we have spent so much time in the UK is because the Library of Congress is learning. And one of the institution's we are learning from is the British Library.'
She described the library as one of the best in the world, saying that its model of openness combined with serious research makes it a beacon for other libraries.
'We sat in a classroom with young people and seeing how enthralled they were with learning with the senior researcher and curator was really the essence of what the British Library had to offer us. Combing the best of a public library with a major research library and seeing it action was thrilling.'
She described the Library of Congress's collections as a 'a true treasure chest' but said that it can be intimidating to anyone who is not a serious researcher. Her public library roles means that she is bringing a fresh perspective on how the Library of Congress should develop. Accessibilty has always been high on her agenda and she says technology will allow that to happen.
'It's an institution that known for scholarly research, but is not the most inviting place. Is it a public service?' she said. That doubt about accessibility was an issue when she was first being considered for the role of Librarian of Congress. She said: 'President Obama was interested in making the Library of Congress more accessible. In my interview with him, he told me that he had visited the library and been shown all of the treasures it held. And he said to me “as Librarian of Congress what would you do to make sure that everyone can see what I have just seen?”
'That was when I knew I could do it.'
Speaking to all the information professionals at the conference, she reminded them that they are part one of the most trusted professions in the world. The current climate of 'alternative facts' and 'fake news' meant that trust is even more valuable now and libraries and library staff need to embrace their role.
'People are hungry for access to authoratitive sources. Librarians are the original search engines and we may not know what it is, but we know how to find it.
'We are not in it for the money and that has helped foster trust. Libraries are a service and we have a special responsibility and we should wear that proudly.
'We have built-in trust and and my call to action for librarians is to think about accessibility in everything you do. We are no longer custodians who are protecting unique items. We need to remove barriers, to engage users and let them create.
'At the Library of Congress we are aspiring to be the best public, research, national and global library.'
Headline image, Dr Carla Hayden photographed by Martyn Hucks at the CILIP 2017 Conference in Manchester