books · libraries

What Does the Librarian of Congress Read Anyway?

Carla_Hayden
Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress, via the Library of Congress

I’m tempted to say that librarians read everything, but of course that isn’t true. Like everyone else, librarians have their own book preferences, and there simply isn’t time to read everything. Discovering the differences in how people read makes The New York Times’s recent interview with Carla Hayden, the current Librarian of Congress, especially interesting.

In its “By the Book” feature, The Times regularly talks to famous people, literary and otherwise, about books and reading. Just a few of their recent interviewees have included Al Franken, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Roxane Gay, Zadie Smith, and Marina Abramovic among others.

But the Hayden interview is special.

In particular, I love Hayden’s discussion of what her relationship to reading was like as a child. She told The Times,

“I was a voracious reader. I was the daughter of musicians and realized pretty early that I wasn’t a musical talent. But what I did love was reading, and devoured books like Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women.” I could hear these characters’ voices in my head the way I think good musicians can hear how notes will sound together from a page. I have loved reading my entire life.”

And that fits with the best book she ever received, which was “Miss Happiness and Miss Flower”, a novel about a girl who receives a pair of Japanese dolls. In the book, a shop owner asks the main character if she can read, and as Hayden relates,

“[the main character] thinks, That’s one thing I can do well. That line really resonated with me because I felt the same way.”

Interviews like this always makes me wonder how our reading choices define us. Our personalities and preferences may cause us to pick up certain books off the shelf, but those same books can also alter who we are. How did Little Women and Miss Happiness and Miss Flower influence Hayden? Probably in ways that we’ll never fully know.

Needless to say, the entire interview is grand, and I encourage you to take a look at it. It offers a fascinating peek into the mind of the woman who is guiding the development of libraries in the United States. (Though, really, you should read through all of the “By the Book” interviews. I haven’t found an uninteresting one yet.)

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