Top U.S. librarian takes state tour; break barriers, Library of Congress leader encourages
By Jeannie Roberts
D.J. Reece, special collections librarian at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, perched on the edge of her chair Friday and anxiously scanned the entrances to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library's event room.
She gasped as Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden was ushered through a side door by U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Ark.
"She's a rock star," Reece gushed. "Gosh, I really hope I get to meet her and get a picture."
Hayden, a wide smile on her face, wound through the room, going from table to table, greeting the more than 100 librarians from around the state gathered to hear her speak.
Reece watched wide-eyed as Hayden came directly to her and gestured toward Reece's blue-dyed hair. Hayden then expressed gratitude that Reece was breaking the traditional "librarian" stereotype.
Hayden, a President Barack Obama appointee, was sworn in on Sept. 14, 2016, and became the first woman and the first black to lead the national library.
"She's amazing," Reece said. "Look at all of the barriers she's broken down. It's my ultimate dream to work in the Library of Congress in the [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] section."
As Hill, a Republican from Little Rock, and Hayden sat in armchairs on the stage minutes later, Hayden referenced the continued need to break barriers in the library world, both in terms of stereotypes and the varied, progressive programs and services libraries offer communities.
One of her main goals, Hayden said, is to see "18 wheelers rolling into communities" bringing the Library of Congress with them by way of traveling exhibits and providing live streams from the nation's capital.
Hill -- who said the Library of Congress is one of his favorite places in D.C. and that he often takes advantage of the resource for his political research -- touted the organization's Surplus Books program that donates books not needed by the Library to public libraries, museums and schools across the nation.
"Our libraries are our gateways," Hill said.
Hayden, Hill and Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., encouraged the state's librarians to collect oral histories of American veterans for the Library of Congress' Veteran History Project. Boozman and his staff have recorded interviews with dozens of the state's veterans, and they've trained more than 400 Arkansans to conduct and submit interviews themselves.
Hayden told the group that a mobile app is in the development stage to make it easier to capture the stories.
Hill began Hayden's Arkansas tour of the state's libraries and historical sites Friday morning at the Historic Arkansas Museum with museum director Swanee Bennett leading the way.
"This is really so well done," Hayden said as she viewed the exhibits, followed closely by her mother, Colleen Hayden, who was born in Helena.
In the museum's gift shop, the mother and daughter perused the Arkansas-made products and purchased two bags full of items. Colleen Hayden convinced her daughter to purchase a painted canvas by Melinda Climer and a wall quilt by Barbara Carlson, both Arkansas artists.
Carla Hayden spent several minutes at the jewelry counter, eventually leaving the store with Arkansas designer Nancy McGraw silver bracelets around her wrists.
Hill presented a book on Helena to Colleen Hayden before leaving the museum.
The group finished the day's visits by reading to children at the William F. Laman Public Library in North Little Rock, then touring Little Rock Central High School.
Today, the nation's top librarian and her mother are visiting Helena and other south Arkansas sites.
"I'm so impressed with Dr. Hayden and her work to make libraries an active place of learning," Hill said. "Martha [his wife] and I have enjoyed getting to know Dr. Hayden since her confirmation on July 13, 2016. She's an outstanding librarian who is doing a splendid job of sharing with families across the United States the Library's mission of maintaining a world-class research collection."