By SARA ARTHURS
Captain Underpants was a hit at the Library of Congress, Carla Hayden told a group Friday at the University of Findlay.
Hayden, the librarian of Congress, spoke at “Fridays at Findlay,” an executive speaker series presented by the University of Findlay and sponsored by First Federal Bank. Her visit was arranged in part through U.S. Rep. Bob Latta.
She is the first woman and the first African-American to serve as librarian of Congress. She was nominated by President Barack Obama in February 2016 to serve a 10-year term.
The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, with a growing collection of more than 164 million items on 838 miles of bookshelves. The collection, in some 470 languages, includes over 38 million books and other print materials, 3.6 million recordings, 14 million photographs, 5.5 million maps, 8.1 million pieces of sheet music and 70 million manuscripts.
Hayden focused her talk on the importance of early literacy. She said she was fortunate to grow up in a family that read, and young people who don’t read are at a disadvantage. By the time they start kindergarten, with a much smaller vocabulary than their peers, their “understanding of the world has been limited,” she said.
While Hayden spoke with passion about the importance of getting children reading, she cautioned that sometimes, when kids get to school, “reading is made to be a chore.”
Even adults, “especially book club members,” assume that if they start a book they must finish it. “It’s like, ‘Eat your vegetables,'” she said.
Hayden instead advocated an approach that encourages both children and adults to “keep that joy going” and read what they love. Say, Captain Underpants.
She said Dav Pilkey, author of the children’s book series, was the biggest hit at a national book festival sponsored by the Library of Congress. Children waited in line for four hours to get their books signed by Pilkey, Hayden said.
Hayden said one joy of meeting her colleagues from other countries’ libraries is getting into a “primary documents war.” Her British counterpart, for example, might brag that their library has the Magna Carta. Well, the Library of Congress has Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence — with footnotes by Ben Franklin and John Adams — and the original draft that was going to be sent to King George.
The Library of Congress also has Teddy Roosevelt’s diary, in which he wrote, upon the deaths of both his wife and his mother, “the light has gone out of my life.”
The collection also has the papers of civil rights icon Rosa Parks.
But what’s unique about the Library of Congress is that, along with important historical documents, it also houses other materials, like the world’s largest collection of comic books.
Hayden said she’s seen armed guards standing “beside a first edition of Superman” as it was being put on display.
Hayden told the story of a handwritten letter she received from an 8-year-old boy, saying he didn’t like the fact that only people 16 years or older could use the Library of Congress.
“I think we should talk about it,” he told her, and “I hope to hear from you soon.”
“Find this child,” Hayden told her staff. During a conference call with the boy, Adam, and his parents, library officials told him his letter prompted them to think about a “young readers’ card” for younger children.
Later, Adam came to the Library of Congress and got to be “librarian for a day” — and review drafts of what the new card would look like.
Hayden said it’s important to make the library’s materials accessible.
“All this cool stuff — let everybody see it,” she said.
Hayden also started approaching social media with the sense of “I’m going on an adventure,” trying to post something every day. For example, upon the release of the movie “Black Panther,” she shared photographs of herself holding comics from the Library of Congress’ collection.
On Twitter on Friday, she shared pictures from Findlay’s Mazza Museum, which she visited after her talk. There, she and illustrator Will Hillenbrand read his new book, “I’m a Duck,” to students from Jacobs Primary School.
“Quack! Now we’re making our own ‘ducks,'” she tweeted shortly afterward. She was also presented with a book illustration. The Mazza Museum collects original artwork by children’s book illustrators.
Prior to this role, Hayden served as CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Maryland. She began her career as a children’s librarian, and was also president of the American Library Association from 2003 to 2004.
She said people often ask what her favorite book is. She replies, “I haven’t read it yet.”