This Woman Is Working to Make the Library of Congress Available to the World Online

Carla Hayden wants to “throw open the treasure chest” of the world’s largest library.

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. (Erika Goldring/WireImage)
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. (Erika Goldring/WireImage)

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Interested in reading the letters of Abraham Lincoln? Checking out early-edition Batman comics? The  “audacious plan” Carla Hayden has in the works at the Library of Congress will speak to you.

Hayden, the first African-American and first woman to serve as the Librarian of Congress, oversees the library’s continuing digitization efforts, reports CNET. Her five-year plan aims to make the vast collection of the library accessible to the world online.

To wrap your head around the ambition of the lengthy project, consider key numbers about the Library of Congress, which was established in 1800 and houses “the largest collection of photographs, maps, comic books and Bibles in the world.” Shelves run for 826 miles and 170 million items are housed, including 68 million manuscripts, 6.5 million pieces of music and more than 3.4 million recordings.

“We’re throwing open the treasure chest, as we like to say, because this is the world’s largest library, with so many unique items,” Hayden, who began her career as a children’s librarian in 1973 at the Chicago Public Library,” tells CNET. “We want to make these things accessible to people who could never come in person, so they can see our manuscripts division and see Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence with footnotes or little side notes, with BF for Benjamin Franklin and JA for John Adams.”

That’s just a tiny taste of a collection whose variety and vastness surprises even Hayden, who loves reading. “Each day, there’s potential to see something new,” she tells CNET. “From seeing Rosa Parks’ handwritten recipe for peanut butter pancakes to the next day seeing Diane Arbus’ contact sheets with a wax pencil mark … to the next day seeing an original manuscript from Jonathan Larson with the lyrics ‘Seasons of Love.’”

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