President Barack Obama recently nominated Carla Hayden – a career professional library administrator – to serve as the retiring James Billington’s successor as head of the Library of Congress. What would normally be an uncontroversial confirmation with bipartisan support has become increasingly contentious as a handful of conservatives, led by the Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky, have rushed to make it a partisan issue — successfully stalling the vote on her confirmation. Unfortunately this obstruction and picayune sniping merely undermines long-term conservative efforts to strengthen Congress as an institution and rein-in an increasingly bloated and unaccountable executive branch.

Hayden earned her doctorate from the University of Chicago, was CEO of Baltimore’s public library system and chief librarian at the Chicago Public Library and has served as president of the American Library Association, among other credentials. She was approved unanimously by voice vote in the Senate Rules Committee. If confirmed by a full Senate vote, Hayden would oversee a budget of more than $630 million and a staff of more than 3,000.

She also would be the first African-American and the first woman to hold the position of librarian of Congress. It is this last bit of biography that seems to have raised the ire of some. Well-respected conservative publications, including National Review and the Weekly Standard, have joined the chorus with Heritage, speculating that she was picked because of “identity politics” rather than her qualifications.

You would think it’s obvious that an accomplished librarian knows how to run a library better than anyone else. But for the peanut gallery of Hayden’s detractors, she’s unqualified to run the nation’s most important library because she’s a librarian. After all, they say, the library already has “countless credentialed librarians” (no doubt there are a lot of lawyers at the Supreme Court, too; but no one is calling for a non-lawyer to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia). Instead, they argue, the institution should be run by an accomplished scholar who, as National Review columnist George Weigel writes, “will build on, not dismantle, the character, vision, and legacy of James H. Billington.”

On closer inspection, they probably should have picked someone else to hold up as the paragon of a scholar-librarian. It’s true that Billington was a well-regarded scholar of Russian and European history who published original research. Billington also was a formidable fundraiser who brought much-needed money to the library. But when it came to his decades-long tenure as librarian of Congress, he had a controversial legacy marred by chronic mismanagement, dysfunctional culture, rapid turnover of senior leadership, resistance to digitization and failing information technology infrastructure.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library, characterized the institution under Billington’s tenure as “struggling really to adapt to a new century.” The U.S. Government Accountability Office was less diplomatic, issuing a series of scathing reports criticizing the library’s lack of leadership and cataloging its information-technology failures.

The library’s legacy of chronic mismanagement affects not only the public’s ability to access its collections and resources. Remember that this is the Library of Congress, and it houses legislative-branch offices and functions that directly support the needs of members of Congress and their staff. These include the Congressional Research Service, the Law Library of Congress (which runs, Library Services (which manages its collections), not to mention the U.S. Copyright Office. If their infrastructure doesn’t work properly, that means Congress is less able to carry out its responsibilities and less open about how it does them.

Stalwart conservative thinkers like Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, have emphasized the importance of giving more power to Congress. His Article 1 Project, as well as the Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group organized by R Street and New America, aim to strengthen the legislative branch’s capacity to rein in executive and judicial overreach.

Small-government conservatives and libertarians, who are otherwise skeptical of giving power to government, should nonetheless care about making sure that Congress works. The alternative is pushing more legislative functions onto the executive branch, whose decisions face little oversight or scrutiny.

The attacks of some conservatives on Hayden for not being a scholar of Billington’s less-than-successful ilk are the latest in a series of bad and short-sighted arguments meant to politicize a fundamentally non-political appointment with no clear objective or end-game. While they may view it as scoring a few political points, they do so by undermining the broader conservative vision to reassert the legislative branch as master of its own sphere. Moreover, because the president nominates the librarian of Congress and the Senate confirms, the 2016 election may lead to a dynamic where conservatives have even less say about the next nominee.

For the Library of Congress to be maximally useful to scholars, and to Congress, it needs to be managed by an experienced administrator with a deep understanding of information management and a track record of modernizing collections and managing the deployment of information technology. Efforts to obstruct Hayden’s confirmation and replace her with God-knows-what will only perpetuate the library’s lack of effective leadership and, by extension, weaken Congress’ ability to constrain executive power.

The sooner a librarian like Hayden is confirmed, the better for the library, the nation, and – yes – conservatives’ vision of an empowered and effective legislative branch.

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