The CVS drug store across the street had been looted. Buildings were burning. Rioters tossed rocks, injuring 15 police officers. The governor imposed a curfew and called out the National Guard. While the University of Maryland closed its downtown campus and the Orioles postponed their home game against the Chicago White Sox at Camden Yards, head librarian Carla Hayden decided to not to close the Pennsylvania Avenue branch of Baltimore's venerable Enoch Pratt Free Library, even though it was at the center of the turmoil surrounding the killing of Freddie Gray.
Because it was at the center of the turmoil.
"We had to be open and available for the community in need," said Hayden, now the Librarian of Congress—the 14th, and first African-American to hold the title. "We did it because, in that neighborhood, like in so many others, the library is the opportunity center and there were people who needed it, to have a safe place."
In addition to its usual functions, the library distributed food and diapers, since stores were closed.
Hayden will visit Chicago next week to receive the 2018 Newberry Library Award, in recognition of her lifetime of service to libraries.
Born in Florida, Hayden came to Chicago when she was 10 after her parents divorced, and graduated from South Shore High School and Roosevelt University.
She got into library work, at the Auburn branch on 79th Street, after a friend told her the library was hiring "anybody with a bachelor's degree." She shifted over to working at the Museum of Science and Industry while earning her her masters and doctorate from the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Library Science.
Hayden, who spent 23 years in Baltimore, has seen how libraries have been transforming into community centers, even before the Internet.
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