It is safe to say that President Obama’s nomination of Dr. Carla Hayden to be the next Librarian of Congress drew rave reviews from the library community. Most Librarians of Congress have been researchers and academics rather than professional librarians. That tradition has worked well over the years, but times are changing quickly for libraries these days. The technical, planning and business skills that come from years of daily service in a large library system, which Dr. Hayden has, seem more important than ever now. Indeed, some of the problems the Library currently has could be attributed to neglect of the technical side of library work by the current Librarian, who clearly stayed in place too long.
So it is not a surprise that library organizations were quick to praise the nomination of Dr. Hayden, who is currently CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. As Inside Higher Ed tells us, Dr. Hayden is credited with improving the finances at Enoch Pratt and with new technological initiatives. Just what the LoC needs.
It is also interesting to see that open access advocates have been equally pleased with this nomination. Public Knowledge, for example, issued this statement welcoming the nomination. The reaction from writer, blogger and open access advocate Cory Doctorow was a little less restrained, referring to Dr. Hayden as “a rip-snortin’, copyfightin’, surveillance-hatin’ no-foolin’ LIBRARIAN.” And TechDirt notes that the President explicitly mentioned open access is his statement about Dr. Hayden. As a reason for nominating a candidate for Librarian of Congress, support for open access is as unprecedented as is Dr. Hayden’s gender or ethnic background.
All this begs the question of what the chances are that Dr. Hayden will be confirmed. Of course, she might encounter difficulties just because of the general dysfunction in Congress or because of a desire to obstruct anything the President thinks is a good idea. Carla Hayden’s nomination may just be collateral damage in the ongoing conflict between the White House and Capitol Hill. But let’s assume for a minute that the nomination does move through the process in Congress — it would be very unusual to see a fight over a Librarian of Congress, after all — and consider the possibilities.
One consideration would be the attitude of the groups that lobby on behalf of Big Content. The RIAA issued this statement in support(?) of the nomination, which certainly seems to damn with faint praise. In fact, Cory Doctorow reads this statement as evidence that the RIAA is afraid of Dr. Hayden. Could it be that she might push the Copyright Office a little bit out of the embrace with Big Content that it has enjoyed in recent years?
This possibility points us to the real drama of the nomination, in my opinion (if drama is not too, well, dramatic a word to use). The issue, anyway, is the effect that Dr. Hayden’s nomination might have on the efforts to move the Copyright Office out of the Library of Congress. The reasons given for this effort, which I wrote about here and here, seem twofold. The first is the fact that the LoC technical infrastructure has become out of date. As I said in the earlier post, that is something we might expect a new Librarian to address, and it seems certain that Dr. Hayden would be well-placed to make those improvements. So if that is the concern, it seems that her appointment should slow the momentum to make the CO an independent agency, or to move it to the Department of Commerce.
But statements regarding the idea of moving the CO also make some veiled references to a conflict of mission between the Copyright Office and libraries. This can only refer to that trend toward the CO becoming a lobbying arm of the content industries, and that conflict — it is shameful, in my opinion, to admit publicly that the Copyright Office is not first and foremost dedicated to the public interest, as are libraries — is only likely to get worse with the nomination of Dr. Hayden. So if we see foot-dragging and an unwillingness to act on this nomination, I think there will be more behind that inaction than just generic reluctance to accept this President’s nominations. I think we will be seeing the quiet but firm opposition of the lobbyists from Big Content, who may be hard-pressed to oppose Dr. Hayden openly but will very likely want to sabotage the nomination in order to preserve their regulatory stranglehold over the Copyright Office.