Hayden to discuss knowledge, literacy in digital age



In 2003, the then-president of the American Library Association was named one of Ms. Magazine’s 10 “Women of the Year,” in part because she and the organization she headed were speaking out.

“When the FBI came snooping, Carla Diane Hayden proved librarians are more freedom fighters than shushers,” wrote Catherine Orenstein in her Ms. Magazine article about Hayden, who was being celebrated for her “bravery in the face of governmental intrusion.”

With the ALA — the world’s oldest, largest and most powerful library organization — behind her, Hayden had repeatedly confronted  U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft two years after 9/11 in order to safeguard the privacy of library users.

At 3 p.m. Saturday in the Hall of Philosophy, Chautauquans will have the opportunity to listen to and ask questions of Hayden, CEO and executive director of Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore and former president of the ALA. Her talk is titled “Knowledge and Literacy in the Digital Age.”

Hayden’s choice of the term “knowledge” is purposeful.

“It’s more than bits and bytes,” she said. “It is what we do about it.”

For hundreds of years, the “main container” of information has been the printed book, she said. Now,  that information has been released, and there’s an overload of it.

“There’s too much,” Hayden said. “The human brain has had to catch up. For a long time, we were processing information in a pretty contained way. There’s been a lot of brain research in the past 20 to 30 years, along with the digital age, and an acceleration of technology. We’re exploring what that means.”

It’s a great time to be alive as well as a scary time, because change is occurring so rapidly, Hayden said. But that means there are numerous tools for harnessing and using information in the digital age, especially with children.

“When you cite all the statistics, it can be overwhelming,” she said. “Still, there’s room for reading in a new way.”

That’s where the “literacy” part of her talk title comes in.

“I’ll spend time on the fate of reading as we know it,” Hayden said. “It’s exciting to be a part of it. We’re digital immigrants. There aren’t too many times we get to live through this.”

Hayden decided to go into the field of library sciences “through the reading path — loving books and reading, loving to learn.” After graduating from Chicago’s Roosevelt University with a bachelor’s degree in political science and history, she was at a crossroad.

“Then, I found out about the reading profession,” she said.

At a library, Hayden saw someone she knew who asked her if she was there to apply for the library job.

“This type of job — ‘library associate’ — is still available,” she said. “It’s a hook. It’s more than checking out books.”

Hayden was so keen on the reading profession that she also earned both a M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago’s Graduate Library School, and worked as the library service coordinator for Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.

“I got hooked with children, reading to them and starting with the art of storytelling without a book,” Hayden said. “We’re getting back to that now in this technological age. True storytelling is without any books.”

Her first position as assistant professor of library science was at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Library and Information Science. She returned to Chicago in 1991 to become the Chicago Public Library System’s deputy commissioner and chief librarian.

Two years later, Hayden moved to Baltimore to serve as the director of Enoch Pratt Free Library.

“One of the board members asked me to come to Baltimore to make it great again,” she said. “That’s a librarian’s dream.”

The early 1990s was a “tenuous time” for libraries, Hayden said. People were asking why library buildings were needed.

“We had studied the Pratt Library in graduate school,” she said. “It’s a notable library. It administers two awards in Margaret Edwards’ name. She started library service for young adults. It’s the first library system in the United States, built in 1933 in the height of the Depression. Mr. Pratt influenced Mr. Carnegie.”

The 300,000-square-feet  central building is beautiful, but it’s also a model for libraries, Hayden said.

“It’s not the grand cathedral of learning,” she said. “Pratt Library had meant so much for librarians and for Baltimore.”

With the recent unrest, Hayden said Pratt Library has been the perfect place for moving Baltimore forward.

“It is a beacon of hope in this community,” Hayden said.

Among Hayden’s top priorities for the Pratt Library system is making sure its facilities have the technology people need. For example, helping people find and apply for employment opportunities is of major import, as is making the transition from print to digital.

Another library priority is encouraging literacy for young readers and teenagers. Here, too, staying current with technology is key.

“Makerspaces are coming,” Hayden said. “They’re like digital workshops.”

In these do-it-yourself areas, teenagers can gather to use crafts, tools and electronic software and hardware, including apps and 3-D printers, to learn, create and invent, she said.

Under Hayden’s leadership, following 25 years of planning, architects who are experts in historic preservation and restoration will soon begin renovating the Pratt Library’s central building. Among other things, all 38 linear miles of shelving will be refurbished, temperature control will be installed, and more collaborative spaces will be added. In addition to Hayden’s executive responsibilities at Pratt Library, she also serves on several boards, including those of the Baltimore City Historical Society, Baltimore Reads and the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities — among others.

The recipient of numerous awards, Hayden has also been honored with medals and honorary doctorates. Most recently, she delivered the 2015 Jean E. Coleman Library Outreach Lecture during the ALA’s annual conference in San Francisco in June.