Transcript: Artist in the Archive Episode 5: Capital L (Featuring Dr. Carla Hayden)

Image for post
Image for post

The following is a transcript of Artist in the Archive Episode 5. You can listen to the episode here, and you can subscribe to Artist in the Archive anywhere fine podcasts are served.

Jer Thorp: Hello, and welcome to the fifth episode of Artist in the Archive.

Jer Thorp: Now, I know it’s been a while since you’ve heard from me, but never fear, the podcast is still alive. And we’re actually hoping to get you episode six about a week from now. Hopefully that will make up, in some fashion, for all that lost time.

Jer Thorp: Now this episode is a little bit different from what you’ve heard before. Rather than the usual interviews with library staff about strange and wonderful things that they’ve found in the process of their jobs, and updates of my own research, this episode contains just one interview, more or less unedited.

Jer Thorp: The interview is with Dr. Carla Hayden, who is the 14th librarian of Congress. Since being sworn in by Supreme Court Justice John Roberts in September of 2016, Dr. Hayden has been busy laying out a new vision for the library, for what it is and what it will be for the years and decades to come.

Jer Thorp: I sat down with Dr. Hayden in her offices on the sixth floor of the Madison building last month.

Jer Thorp: So, when I started my residency here, I thought in my head that I had no idea what I was going to do and people who listened to the first episode of the podcast will hear me admitting this to the public. But I did have one dream and that dream was to sit down with my guest today and have a conversation, and my guest today is the Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden.

Jer Thorp: Carla, thank you for joining us at Artist in the Archive.

Carla Hayden: Thank you.

Carla Hayden: I’ve been here a year and a half right now, so you’re right on time.

Jer Thorp: Right.

Jer Thorp: And so I follow you on Twitter.

Carla Hayden: Thank you.

Jer Thorp: Your Twitter stream is delightful. It seems to me that you spend a huge a amount of time discovering things here and, in the time that I’ve been here, it’s been an incredible process of discovery.

Jer Thorp: Maybe you can tell us what the most recent thing that you discovered in the library’s holdings, or something that is currently a back in the brain obsession for you?

Carla Hayden: Well, before I tell you that, the impetus for starting this journey in social media of discovery was really ignited because as a librarian for several decades who knew about the Library of Congress, who’s of course in library school, you learn about it, you visit. Over the years, I’ve had colleagues that have worked here. I’ve been here for workshops. Just thought I knew the Library of Congress, but I also realized that there’s really no way that any one individual can know everything about the Library of Congress.

Carla Hayden: And so as soon as I stepped down from the stage after being sworn in a year and a half ago, on September 14th, I said, “I’m going on a journey of discovery. 164 million items. 170 collections. All of these things. And I’d like to share that with you.”

Carla Hayden: And so that’s how it started and that’s why the feed has such a feeling of discovery, because it literally is something that I’m excited to share with people, as, yesterday, for instance, I looked at scouting reports from the Branch Rickey collection. And Branch Rickey is this talent scout and the particular ones that I saw yesterday related to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Carla Hayden: And as a little girl, I used to go to those games with my grandfather. We were in Springfield, Illinois. And the curator, and these are curators who know everything, so this particular curator knows everything about baseball. And I wanted to put it up because this is opening day, today. And so I discovered the scouting reports of Bob Gibson, who was a friend of my aunt’s and talked about him, Curt Flood who, when my parents got divorced, I wanted my mom to marry him. All of that. And one of the worst players ever, and all Branch Rickey said was, “Can’t hit, can’t run, no way.” That was the entire report. We put that up.

Carla Hayden: So those are the types of things that you can discover in collections, and the collections come alive when you put it with the people. And i know you’ve had experience meeting the staff members here-

Jer Thorp: Yeah.

Carla Hayden: Who have the knowledge, and the depth of knowledge they have is phenomenal.

Jer Thorp: Yeah. I mean, that leads into the next question. And I would say 30% of the excitement and reward that’s come from doing this podcast or doing the work I’ve done is with these incredible objects. And the other 70% is with these amazing people.

Jer Thorp: I have this recurring thing that happens where I’ll meet a librarian or an archivist and I’ll ask to come and be interviewed on this podcast. And they’ll say, “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know if I really know what to say.” And we get the microphone set up, and they bring out the object, and like 25 minutes later they’re just filling my brain with the most incredible information.

Jer Thorp: I’ve been really curious as to how an institution like this can do a better job at putting that institutional knowledge outward? And I’m not saying that the library doesn’t do a good job with things like Ask A Librarian and with lots of featured interview and so on, but do you have-

Carla Hayden: We can do more.

Jer Thorp: Do you have any instincts or ideas about how these people can become a more public part of this institution.

Carla Hayden: And rock stars, too, because some of them are just, the head of our rare books collection, Mark [Dimunation 00:06:38] needs to be on television. He needs to be seen. He looks like Ben Franklin, he’s just this [inaudible 00:06:47], I mean he’s just wonderful. And yes I have quite a few ideas and that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to be Librarian of Congress because this treasure chest of just wonderful materials on any subject. You go from opening day to Bach. You know, a Bach concert, and we have a lock of Bach’s hair. And a curator, though, and here’s the crucial part, who can explain why this particular piece means so much and put it in context with what Mozart did later, and all of this.

Carla Hayden: So we’re working on a number of things to enhance us. We’re calling it the visitor experience. Now, that’s a visitor that’s here in visitor, a visitor online, a visitor through any type of media. And how can we not only digitize some of the unique collections, not books that other people have, but the unique collections that we have. And also give people an opportunity to interact directly with those curators, so programs like Live from the Library where you actually have your own YouTube channel or a way to broadcast out and do more broadcasts live from the library, and put it in a way that people can interact as well with the curators and librarians.

Carla Hayden: Taking 18-wheelers throughout the country and just pulling up and, “Here we are, Library of Congress.” With live feeds also in rural America or anywhere, urban, rural, any place, and you actually could interact with the curators here in Washington, DC, with a staff member that’s on site with you in New Mexico or wherever. And also traveling exhibits and making sure that the content gets out there in ways that will reach people in different ways.

Carla Hayden: So there are a lot of different ideas and we’re really excited about it. My predecessor called it getting the champagne out of the bottle, and we want them not only to look at, we want them to drink it. Okay.

Jer Thorp: There’s lots of ideas that come from that. One of the things that I think is interesting about getting out into the community is that I think there’s an opportunity for it to be a two-way street.

Carla Hayden: Yes.

Jer Thorp: You have these objects and really interesting things coming up into these cities, but also local knowledge coming back to the library. And one of the things I’ve learned is that this library holds a lot of objects that I sort feel a great deal of empathy for because they’re sort of stranded because nobody’s found them or understood their importance.

Jer Thorp: And a lot of those are deeply embedded with local history.

Carla Hayden: Yes.

Jer Thorp: And your stories about the St. Louis baseball players is a great example of it. I think by bringing these objects to St. Louis, you would certainly have a whole generation of people who probably could add some really interesting knowledge, particularly about maybe obscure players who the curator doesn’t know much about.

Carla Hayden: Or knows about but doesn’t have the personal stories that the person who’s standing there in the suburb of St. Louis can tell them about their grandfather, who knew this person. And you get oral histories.

Carla Hayden: I just had an experience in Ohio. I was in [Findlay 00:10:23], Ohio, and I’ve been going out to different States. I was in Mississippi and West Virginia and Michigan and, just recently this weekend, in Ohio. And the people there had just finished their veterans’ history projects and had a book of the local veterans that they had bound and wanted to give to the Library of Congress because it was all of the histories that they are putting in the collection, and I found out more about [Perryville 00:10:55], with Admiral Perry, and they had a lot of local history that we can connect to what’s here.

Carla Hayden: So that’s why I’m going out and opening up that communication, too.

Jer Thorp: I love the idea of that happening physically. I’ve had this reoccurring idea/dream that on the library search site there would be a button that would be available anywhere that would be like, “Tell us about this.”

Carla Hayden: Yes.

Jer Thorp: So that people who are searching who often are people who have specific knowledge, that’s why they’re searching for it, because it’s something that has meaning to them, can really easily annotate it or add and it becomes this living bond between the library and all the people out everywhere.

Carla Hayden: And history is hands-on history, making history, connecting history, and we’ll be launching very shortly a program, Citizen Historian. We’ll put things up and ask people to contribute and think about what this document is and help us with that.

Jer Thorp: Speaking of history, it’s clear to me through my time here that there’s a couple of really big tensions that run through this institution, and one of them is this historical thing where was this library was born as a library for Congress-

Carla Hayden: Yes.

Jer Thorp: And then it became something much different than that, but there’s still that kind of-

Carla Hayden: Well, that’s interesting. It’s a creative tension, though, because it was, when it was started, 1800, it was actually a collection of reference books for Congress. And think about when the library was established. The nation was just being established, right, 1776, 1797. So here you have the capital and legislators in this new country. And so that’s the title. Library of Congress.

Carla Hayden: And then over time, especially after the Library of Congress was tasked with administering the US copyright system in 1870, that allowed for the selection of copyrighted materials to be registered, and that included sheet music.

Carla Hayden: So that’s when the collection really, really, really, really grew, over time. Now Congress still is the primary customer, and there’s a special group of curators, as you know, and analysts, the Congressional research service. And they just service Congress and their staff members.

Carla Hayden: This collection on every subject known to personhood is such that it serves, of course, Congress, but also the communities that Congress serves. The public. It’s a national library as well.

Carla Hayden: So the tension, when you pick up that, might be more about, “This is the world’s largest collection of materials.” It’s a universal collection. Other national libraries are more concentrated on materials about their country and anything [inaudible 00:14:22].

Carla Hayden: This, the Library of Congress, is a universal collection.

Jer Thorp: Yeah. Let me try to be a little bit more clear about that. I think that there’s a big function of this library, at least for the big part of the 20th century, which was kind of as a resource for academic researchers, like people who come into this building with a very specific, pointed research question.

Jer Thorp: And then there’s the capital P, Public, right. People who come maybe-

Carla Hayden: The 1.8 million people who visit the Thomas Jefferson building alone each year.

Jer Thorp: Sure. Yeah.

Carla Hayden: And they are also able to, and most of them are people who are visiting the capital, they’re visiting the Smithsonian, they’re visiting the National Archives, and then they’re finding out, when they walk through the doors, and sometimes on the website, that they can get a reader’s card at 16. That’s a researcher.

Carla Hayden: So researchers come in all ages and needs. So they’re the people who are doing it to write books, David McCullough, one of my favorites. That are doing research and are using the unique collections. The Wright Brothers collection for instance, David McCullough’s book on the Wright Brothers. He credits it in the book, based on, basically the collection that’s here.

Carla Hayden: People who are doing specific research about specific subjects or people, and then there are other people who want to do research online or they’re looking, so it’s a broad range, from people with a narrow research focus to people who are interested in their own town and genealogy.

Jer Thorp: Yeah, I guess from my experience, this is my own personal experience, the reading rooms can be very intimidating. And so even though I know that they’re open to anybody, before I came here and did the job that I’m doing now, I don’t think that I would think, “Oh, I’m curious about this particular subject. I’ll go into the library.” And so how do-

Carla Hayden: We’d like to change that.

Carla Hayden: Because it’s not an oxymoron that you can get a reader’s card at 16. A 16 year old usually is in high school, or not, or whatever. So you have privileges. You can use materials. And so we want to let more people know that they shouldn’t feel intimidated. This is the people’s library. It is a wonderful resource.

Carla Hayden: You have your local libraries, you have your school libraries, your university libraries, and everyone has the Library of Congress.

Jer Thorp: I’ve been, to my friends, probably sounding a little bit like a parrot about this, because everyone friend that I have and everyone friend that you have has some interest that they could come here and build their knowledge about. So I’ve certainly been a big advocate of that.

Carla Hayden: Comic books.

Jer Thorp: [crosstalk 00:17:35] [inaudible 00:17:35] and comic books. I’ve sat-

Carla Hayden: The world’s largest collection of comic books.

Jer Thorp: I mean, listeners to the podcast heard my squeals of glee when I sat and looked at those comic books.

Carla Hayden: Right. The Black Panther movie that’s so popular, we were able to put up and show that we have the first appearance in 1967, and then 10 years later in 1976. And then we have Stan Kirby’s drawings and all of this stuff. So people wouldn’t think that and so we want them to know, yes, you don’t have to be trying to do rocket science, although we have Carl Sagan’s collection and his drawing of space people when he was 12 years old, and his view of outer space at 12. So we put that up because that’s important for a 12 year old to see, too.

Jer Thorp: And that sort of brings me back to this phrase that you said in the beginning, “Journeys of discovery.”

Carla Hayden: Yes.

Jer Thorp: And this is my big question that’s in my brain, and part of this conversation is to maybe hope that you can point me in some right directions to explore there, but it is difficult for people who don’t have the sort of access and privilege that you have, or the access and privilege that I’ve had to go on a journey of discovery through the library.

Jer Thorp: And I should say that’s not a problem with the library. It’s kind of a problem with any large archive and even the internet. The way that Google functions. It doesn’t facilitate serendipity. I remember when I was a child, and you come from the community library system, I owe everything to the community library system. And when I was a kid, I wouldn’t go to the library to find something. I would just go to the library.

Carla Hayden: Right.

Jer Thorp: In itself it would be, because I would walk along those stacks and maybe I would be looking for a book over on this shelf on my right, but on the shelf on my left would be something I hadn’t thought of, and I would look over there, and, “Ooh, there it is.”

Carla Hayden: Right.

Jer Thorp: And so I have this dream of trying to facilitate serendipity within an institution like this.

Carla Hayden: Well, you really hit on it in terms of what we’re working with experts in tech and everything, that’s something that we are all, the Holy Grail of online searching is to get that serendipity function.

Carla Hayden: And so our curators are working to see how can they give you that same sense of, “Oh, my, didn’t know this.”

Carla Hayden: Librarians are sometimes very good on Jeopardy and shows like that. We know a lot about, you know, we’re very curious. And so looking at our website and how we can build that into it, if you’re thinking about this or you just hit on this in baseball, but did you know that the manufacturer of baseballs was here, and then that and why the materials are the same.

Carla Hayden: So trying to help people have that fun, about just discovering things online.

Jer Thorp: You just made a great motion with your arm to try to describe the idea of it.

Carla Hayden: Yeah, you’re just going, yeah. Weaving around.

Jer Thorp: With my work over the last decade with large datasets, I’ve often thought about this creating vehicles that people can jump in, and those vehicles will take them to areas that they might not normally see.

Carla Hayden: Right. A GPS.

Jer Thorp: Yeah, or it reminds me of those kind of hilarious duck buses, you know, you can jump in one of them and it can go over the land and in the water, and so might start in Rare Books and end up in Maps. Those vehicles, unfortunately, I don’t think really exist other than in human form [inaudible 00:21:34]-

Carla Hayden: Well, the gaming community is pretty good at some of those if you look at some of the gaming technology and how you go through this and that’s what hooks people because every time you play the game, you might have a different door open or something like that.

Carla Hayden: So we have been looking into, in terms of tech and search and discovery, the gaming aspect. Because they do it pretty well.

Jer Thorp: So here’s an idea that I actually had when I was walking in here this morning, and I want to talk to you a little bit about it. The most famous space in the library perhaps is the Reading Room. I’ve been thinking about what a Making Room looks like at the library, where people could come and create, rather than just read, absorb.

Carla Hayden: Your listeners, they know that we hadn’t planned this, right?

Jer Thorp: They know. We have done no planning with it.

Carla Hayden: Because part of the plan and what we’re working on is having one of the reading rooms and a reading room experience where you actually are making your own content and using some of the materials, and being able to have a youth center where young people have hands-on history and they’ll get to test paper and do all kinds of cool things there as well. So that’s something that in the next year or so, people will see and know about.

Carla Hayden: [crosstalk 00:23:06] Making area. That you’re not just consuming content, but you’re actually using some of the content to make your own.

Jer Thorp: There’s been a lot of focus on how new technologies, things like machine learning, artificial intelligence techniques, can help us do what we’ve already done better with libraries, but I think there’s an amazing opportunity to do new things with archives, and for me, what those technologies facilitate most most excitingly is this generative capacity.

Jer Thorp: So somebody could come in and very easily make a mosaic or a map or-

Carla Hayden: Yes.

Jer Thorp: And I want to loop back back to this idea of local knowledge and this idea that not being a one-way street, so I think you could have people come in and create while contributing to this archive.

Jer Thorp: We had some excellent people from the Veterans’ History Project on the podcast, and that project resonates with me deeply on a lot of levels, but most of it is that that feels like the most human of the library, to me, and that we learned in that podcast that every veteran has their collection. They have their own official collection that stands beside the Lincoln collection and the Jefferson collection, which to me, that’s what the library’s about.

Jer Thorp: And so I would be really interested to understand how something like a making room could also deputize people as archivists and contributors to the archive.

Carla Hayden: Well those types of spaces, and sometimes I call them maker spaces in libraries and museums, will be here in Washington, DC, but we also want to make sure that local historical societies, library schools will have kiosks and things that can be in communities, and that’s what I was talking about in Ohio and Michigan, that they could have their own Library of Congress out station or place that they could connect with the materials and the people in the communities. And so we’re doing more where we would be on-site in other places as well.

Carla Hayden: Also using virtual reality, and there are those that you know, where, you get serendipity, so we had some really cool experimental things with that, where you could actually put the glasses on or the device, and you could roam the stacks and then be able to pull to a box or something and look at the contents.

Carla Hayden: So that’s one that is really exciting, the possibility.

Jer Thorp: Yeah. I’ve done a lot of work with data and communities, and that work tends to be literally about bring the data into a space and having people work on it, and I was going on my usual rant about VR, which is that it can be a deeply impersonal thing, whereas I think libraries are, you know, the reason why they work the way that they work is because they tend to be very human and very human focused-

Carla Hayden: [crosstalk 00:26:22] They are human and they also lend themselves to giving people more experiences. And I guess I’m speaking from being on boots on the ground in Baltimore City, where I still live.

Carla Hayden: And sometimes there are limits to what can happen in a storefront library, in a challenged community. Virtual reality can let people go beyond the walls and the streets of where they are, so combining it. You do as much as you can on site, but for some people, that site, that place, might be rather limiting in terms of them being able to visualize where they can go.

Carla Hayden: So I’ve seen the power of using technology to expand people’s worlds, right, when they’re ducking from coming into the library to duck gunshots, right.

Jer Thorp: Yeah. Yeah.

Carla Hayden: Sometimes virtual reality gives you a reality that might be a little bit more-

Jer Thorp: [crosstalk 00:27:39] I agree with you, I agree with you in principle-

Carla Hayden: [crosstalk 00:27:39] Okay, so that’s something that you-

Jer Thorp: First of all, I know that in our efforts, I ran a studio for six years, never really thought about a lot of these ideas, that that kind of technological sort of costs of the actual thing can be really prohibitive, but-

Carla Hayden: There are now, and I guess I can go on about this a little bit, but we’re [inaudible 00:28:01] there are some virtual reality units that are being used that are cardboard and you actually have the kids make them in class.

Jer Thorp: Yeah, the Google Cardboard.

Carla Hayden: Yeah, that kind of thing, where you enable it. So you have the hands-on thing plus you can put it to a cheap device and things like that. So I just think that one aspect, technology can be a wonderful tool. It doesn’t have to be the end, but it can be used for good.

Jer Thorp: I had another question that came to me in the process of this day, so you haven’t heard this question yet.

Jer Thorp: So two institutions that I’ve been very close to over the years, the New York Times and National Geographic, over the last, actually, three weeks have both done something really amazing. And in National Geographic’s case, they hired a historian and a historian was tasked to analyze the racist history of National Geographic.

Jer Thorp: And in the New York Times case, today, actually, they released the study where they also looked internally at themselves and it was quite a damning story about how well they’ve done with diversity in their newsrooms and so on, and so on.

Jer Thorp: I want to ask about an institution like this. And I want to open the question to both looking backwards and forwards, about how do you balance being honest about some of the past with where you want to go with the future?

Carla Hayden: One of the great things in being in an institution that’s about history is that it’s history good and bad, and that a lot of that’s subjective, too.

Jer Thorp: Yeah.

Carla Hayden: I mean, you think it’s this. So, I guess because I was a history major, I also have a different view of yes, that was bad, all right. Those things happened. And part of looking at the past is to help you keep going forward, and acknowledging different truths or different things had happened, and so you acknowledge it and it’s a journey.

Carla Hayden: So I guess I’m not as-

Jer Thorp: I guess what was remarkable for this and just was-

Carla Hayden: [crosstalk 00:30:22] you know, the Library of Congress, the library I left in Baltimore. There’s a book out about discrimination and different hard truths about public library that just came out. Separate but not equal, in terms of public libraries in this country.

Carla Hayden: And some of the discriminatory processes, and there would be colored branches in cities or areas and all of this kind of thing. I was just in Mississippi, I mentioned, and they had a wonderful plaque for the Tougaloo Nine. These were college students from Tougaloo college that de-segregated the public library in Jackson, Mississippi by using library research techniques. They made search that the books that they were going to ask for at the Jackson public library where black people were discouraged from going, were not available in the colored branch of the public library or their college branch. So they actually used library techniques, so that they knew that when they went to use the library and ask for these books, that they couldn’t be turned away by a technicality, saying, “Oh, they’ve got them in your thing.”

Carla Hayden: So I thought that was pretty neat.

Jer Thorp: Using the library, someone mentioned, as a kind of force for-

Carla Hayden: Use library mechanisms. “No, we’ve looked. We checked the catalog. Okay, you don’t have them, they don’t have those books, so why can’t we use this library.”

Carla Hayden: So those types, and then now there’s a plaque and eight of the people are still living, and they had a dedication recently. The Tougaloo Nine. Because you think about de-segregating schools and transportation systems, people didn’t always realize that public libraries weren’t always free and open to everybody.

Jer Thorp: I’m going to look that story up and post a link up in our [inaudible 00:32:14] so that people can find out more about it.

Carla Hayden: [crosstalk 00:32:15] Please do, please do. Because it’s kind of very a interesting story.

Jer Thorp: I have one more question for you and it’s the most wide open one. The 13th Librarian of Congress, James Billington, served for 38 years as the librarian. So, in 2054, what will this library look like? What will it feel like?

Carla Hayden: [crosstalk 00:32:41] Oh well, you should know that the Congress passed a law that says that the Librarian of Congress will now have a term of 10 years.

Jer Thorp: Okay.

Carla Hayden: Could be renewed. And I think that was really helpful because now, with so much going on in libraries, to be able to have a kind of tenure, I think, is reflective of what’s going on generally in libraries because when you ask about 2054, definitely the Library of Congress is not alone in looking outward.

Carla Hayden: What the Library of Congress will still have and is making plans for and has is deep storage and preservation of actual items. The contents of Abraham Lincoln’s pockets the night he was assassinated. His reading copy of the Gettysburg Address. Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence, in his hand, with footnotes by Benjamin Franklin. And he puts BF and John Adams, JA. Those things have to be preserved, and so the library knows that it will have to have the right temperature control, the different types of things.

Carla Hayden: And then the migration of technology. If you’re digitizing things now, you have to make sure that you will be able to transfer it to whatever the new technologies are, and storage. So storage and capacity in doing that, and then the possibilities for access. We might be able to, I know you might not like this, but we might be able to drop people right into the stacks.

Jer Thorp: Yeah.

Carla Hayden: Virtually. But there will be a lot, I think, smoother integration of technology by then, I think just in our lives in general.

Jer Thorp: Will there be a different understanding of what a library is than there is now? I hesitate to say this on this podcast, because I think a lot of our listeners are library adept, but there is still a sort of understanding of what a library is that I think is a pretty limited definition, and I wonder if we turn the tables from what the library will look like in 2054 to what will a library visitor is and what do they think of? What is a library to them? Do you have any ideas?

Carla Hayden: Yes, because I just saw a four and a half year old demonstrate her new iPad to me, and she was barely up to this table that we’re sitting at and she put in her password. And I’m looking and saying, “This is a four and a half year old with a password. This is a different generation. These are the digital natives.” So what library means to them is being shaped right now in libraries all over the country and the world, and their view of it will be something you’ve seen at commercial, where a kid is doing all of these kind of things with what someone in our age group might say is a laptop or computer. And then at the end, the neighbor looks at the kid and says, “What are you doing on your computer?” And the kid looks at her and says, “What’s a computer?”

Carla Hayden: But you’ve seen all the things that this kid has done. So that, the concept, and all types of libraries are working on this now, it will mean something else. So it’ll mean something that I can download, it’ll mean something that I can just virtually go to the library in Edinburgh with the beautiful poetry collection, or I could drop in at the Vatican library and pull up some of that stuff.

Carla Hayden: So it’s going to mean something different for a different generation.

Jer Thorp: I hope, personally, that one part of the aspect of that, right now we’re in this weird place where data is becoming more and more important and influential to people’s lives, but that data is kind of being controlled and held by private institutions, and I hope the libraries can play a role in not only educating people about that. I taught internet classes in 1992 in the University of British Columbia, and I did in the library.

Carla Hayden: Yes.

Jer Thorp: And that was where people would go to learn about the internet. And we know that the internet was born elsewhere, but for many people, their first exposure to it was in a library.

Carla Hayden: That’s right.

Jer Thorp: And I wonder if that’s going to be the same case for data literacy that this is somewhere where people come to understand how to use this stuff, how to work with it, but also what are the cultural implications of it?

Carla Hayden: Well librarians call it and have called it information literacy, and how you decide what’s the best website for health issue, how do you distinguish between sources and authority on different topics, so that is still a major part in terms of curriculum. Information literacy. How do you judge what you’re looking at, where’s it coming from, who’s producing it. And that’s become even stronger now that more people are consuming information and they need to be wise consumers, just like you would in terms of what you eat. You might, have, you know the calorie count. You know this, that type of thing is starting to gain traction even more now.

Jer Thorp: Is there anything that we’ve either skirted around or missed that you think would be an important addition to our conversation?

Carla Hayden: I think that some of your listeners might be pleased to know that since, in this year and a half, and I’ve been doing a lot, as you know, talking about the Library of Congress and what it has and opening up the treasure chest, that I recently got a letter from a eight year old boy who kind of chastised me a little bit and said, “I don’t want to wait another eight years before I get a reader’s card. What can you do about it?

Carla Hayden: And I put him up on my feed, too, because he came to visit, that we are really going to be doing more to get young people excited about being history detectives, about letting their curiosity go wild with all of this great stuff, is what he called it, that we have. And so we’ll be working to make sure that they feel just as comfortable batting around in the Library of Congress however they get to us as they would if they were in their local library.

Jer Thorp: My son is two and a half, so I appreciate that strategy because-

Carla Hayden: Oh, we have something for the zero to three years.

Jer Thorp: Because I will be bringing him here, and I think that knits neatly to what we were just talking about, because I think it’s also a place to seed young minds with some really important information about how to maintain their civil rights and liberties in a world that’s changing really deeply.

Carla Hayden: I think it’s an exciting time for young people, though.

Jer Thorp: Well, I think, I know I will and I think all the rest of our listeners are very excited about what you do in the next eight and a half years, but hopefully more than that.

Jer Thorp: Dr. Hayden, what a pleasure. Thank you so much.

Carla Hayden: Thank you. Thank you.

Jer Thorp is an artist, writer & teacher. He is Innovator-in-Residence at the Library of Congress. His book Living in Data will be published in 2020 by MCDxFSG.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store