CAMAS — The Camas Public Library and the halls of Congress differ in a few ways. For starters, there’s the bubbles.
During a visit to the library’s Preschool Storytime on Tuesday morning, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dr. Carla Hayden, librarian of Congress, watched as about two dozen toddlers romped in a stream of bubbles from an automatic bubble machine after listening to the two women from the highest halls of Washington, D.C., read picture books like “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.”
From the sidelines, Angie Riesterer, the Battle Ground Republican’s spokesperson, floated an idea — maybe Congress ought to blast bubbles over the floor after a major vote, she (mostly) joked. It sure seemed effective in livening up the room.
Hayden and Herrera Beutler were in town to promote the Surplus Books Program, a Library of Congress program that lets congressional staffers handpick books to send home to libraries in their districts.
The Camas library got about 30 new books in the first dispatch, said Library Director Connie Urquhart. They’re planning on multiple shipments.
The Surplus Books Program is a win-win, said Elizabeth Torkelson, congressional relations specialist with the Library of Congress.
The Capitol Hill library is home to millions of books and printed materials. Some are repeats, and there’s not enough shelf space for all of them. So the books are made available for surplus.
The stock switches out once a month.
“Anything that we’re unable to keep in our collections, we make available to the Surplus Books Program,” Torkelson said.
“They’re constantly changing, and they range from children’s books to adult books, large print materials (and) materials in foreign languages. They can come and select these items and ship them back to public schools, libraries, nonprofits — anything that helps build up their collections.”
The program is free. The one caveat is that House members or representatives from their staff need to visit the surplus library in person to pick out books, so it’s time-intensive. Around half of Congress takes advantage of the opportunity, Torkelson said.
According to Riesterer, this is Herrera Beutler’s second year participating. Last year, the congresswoman sent books to the library at Centralia Christian School.
‘Rock star librarian’
The Librarian of Congress, as Urquhart explained to the kids, is “the biggest, baddest librarian of all. She’s like the president of librarians. She’s like the cherry-on-top-of-the-sundae librarian.”
Indeed, Hayden is a big deal. Since the library’s founding in 1800, there have been 14 librarians of Congress. Hayden took the helm in 2016.
“She always jokes that she’s the rock star librarian, which is an oxymoron, because nobody thinks of rock stars and librarians in the same sentence,” Torkelson said.
In a question-and-answer session before the reading program, Hayden fielded questions from a more grown-up audience. Herrera Beutler stood next to the librarian, gently bouncing her newborn daughter, Isana, whenever the baby fussed.
The library’s purview is vast and varied, Hayden said. It owns the largest collection of Bibles in the world, as well as impressive repertoire of pop culture items — the library also boasts the biggest collection of comic books and baseball cards.
“You go from baseball to Bibles to comic books to scrolls,” Hayden said.
In partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, the library recently bought the earliest known picture of Harriet Tubman. They were also recently gifted the Rosa Parks collection, which includes everything from her diaries to handwritten peanut-butter pancake recipes.
“We want to make sure some things stay in public hands. Some of these treasures should be,” Hayden said.
A big part of the job, she added, is ensuring that the library has enough funding to continue that mission. She recounted a recent hearing before the House Committee on Appropriations, where she had to make arrears — a backlog of unprocessed materials — sound interesting enough to warrant a bigger budget.
“We were going to make the case that we needed staff,” Hayden said.
“Not sexy,” Herrera Beutler agreed.
“Then we started saying, ‘Well, what’s in there?’ The papers of 23 presidents, including Teddy Roosevelt. The diary that he carried, where on Feb. 14 he wrote, ‘the light has gone out of my life,” because his mother and wife died, same day, Feb. 14 in the same house,” Hayden said. “That was a pivotal thing; he came out West.”
“We have the Clara Barton diaries; she suffered from depression, very severe depression,” Hayden continued. “We just got a collection from a famous opera singer.”
“I imagine all these people — Teddy Roosevelt behind me, the opera singer, congresspeople — they’re standing there waiting. Because their papers and their things are waiting. You start naming those,” Hayden concluded, “and that’s when you bring it home.”