9 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden

Shawn Miller, Library of Congress
Shawn Miller, Library of Congress

Established in 1800 in Washington, D.C., the Library of Congress is the world’s largest library. Their Congressional Research Service helps members of Congress conduct research on U.S. laws and policies, but the public is also free to visit and browse items from the library’s impressive collection. The institution employs thousands of people, from curators and archivists to IT specialists, but only one person—the Librarian of Congress—is appointed by the president to oversee the entire operation. Today, Dr. Carla Hayden serves as the 14th (and first female and African-American) Librarian of Congress. Mental Floss spoke to Hayden to learn the ins and outs of her job as Librarian-in-Chief, from her work defending democracy to her love of the library’s spinach smoothies.

1. HER OFFICE VIEW IS KILLER.

Before becoming Librarian of Congress in 2016, Hayden served as the CEO of Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library, the president of the American Library Association, and deputy commissioner and chief librarian of the Chicago Public Library. But her current gig arguably has the biggest perks, including the view from her office window.

Located on Capitol Hill, the Library of Congress comprises three structures, known as the Jefferson, Madison, and Adams Buildings. “The Madison Building [is] where my day to day office is,” Hayden tells Mental Floss. “I’m facing the magnificent Jefferson building … and immediately to the left is the U.S. Capitol,” she says. “It really makes a wonderful visual synergy of those institutions.”

2. WATCHING MOVIES IS PART OF HER JOB DESCRIPTION.

Carla Hayden looking at a film reel with an expert at the Culpepper Library of Congress campus,
Hayden with an expert at the Culpeper campus.
Shawn Miller, Library of Congress

Although books and manuscripts are essential to the library, films are important, too, as documents that reflect American society, culture, and history. Each year, the National Film Preservation Board makes recommendations to Hayden for the 25 films that should be added to the National Film Registry, and she and members of the Film Board then make the final choices.

The library even has a separate building in Culpeper, Virginia—the Packard Campus—devoted to preserving culturally significant films, TV and radio shows, and sound recordings. “I got a chance to visit and spend the day there,” Hayden says. “I was able to see the different rooms that are used to preserve audio recordings and films. When I was there they were looking at Jerry Lewis’s home movies.”

The Packard Campus even hosts film showings. Hayden explains: “It has wonderful public programs in a magnificent film theater that is state-of-the-art with a pipe organ and even a popcorn machine.”

3. SHE LOVES EXPERTS.

Hayden’s duties require her to oversee the library’s massive collection—as well as its 3149 full-time staff members. “The Librarian of Congress works with a variety of people who are specialists in so many fields,” Hayden explains. “You have people who speak several languages, who are specialists in French literature or Lithuanian history. There’s such a variety of expertise and talent at the library.” Hayden adds that her favorite part of her job is working with the expert staff members. “Every time I interact with them, I learn a lot. You’re almost a professional student,” she says.

4. SHE READS ON HER COMMUTE.

Because Hayden lives in Baltimore, Maryland and commutes to D.C. for work, she sometimes uses her transit time for one of her favorite activities—reading. (Depending on her schedule and what’s happening at work, Hayden either drives or takes the train.) “Right now on the train, which I’ve been experimenting with even more, it [takes] an hour. And that’s a good time to read and reflect, and on the way home, relax,” she says.

Although Hayden says that she doesn’t have as much time as she’d like to devote to reading for pleasure, she admits that the line between reading for pleasure and reading for work can overlap. “Some of the reading that I’m doing for work—like more about the founding fathers and mothers—that is actually interesting [to me] because I’m a history and political science major from undergraduate,” she says. A few of Hayden’s favorite books include Bright April, a children’s book by Marguerite de Angeli, and The Historian As Detective by Robin W. Winks.

5. SHE APPOINTS THE U.S. POET LAUREATE AND OVERSEES COPYRIGHT.

Hayden’s duties are multifaceted: She appoints the U.S. Poet Laureate, helps choose the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, and appoints the Register of the U.S. Copyright Office (located in the Library’s Madison Building), among other responsibilities. How does she choose the recipients of such lofty titles? By consulting with experts, of course. “The library is very fortunate to have wonderful advisory committees and people who help with different suggestions for [Poet Laureate and Gershwin Prize] selections,” she says.

As for copyright, Hayden says: “The Register is responsible for managing the process of copyright and also for advising Congress on the legal aspects of copyright.” Hayden also makes sure the Copyright Office has the resources it needs so that it is run efficiently. “The Librarian does not advise on the legal aspects—that’s the expertise of the Register,” she says.

6. SHE WANTS TO MAKE BEING A LIBRARIAN COOL.

In an interview with CBS This Morning in 2016, Hayden explained one of her goals as Librarian of Congress: “We want to make sure that history is fun and people see the [librarian] profession as something that is desirable.”

Part of making history fun is making it accessible to millions of people, whether they’re able to visit the library or not. One way to modernize the library is to use social media to connect with people around the U.S.—and world. “I am the first Librarian [of Congress] to tweet, and since my swearing in I have 10,000 followers,” she told CBS. Today, she has more than 45,000 followers.

7. SHE LOVED HER SWEARING-IN CEREMONY.

Carla Hayden at her swearing-in ceremony
Shawn Miller, Library of Congress

In September 2016, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts delivered an oath to Hayden as Speaker Paul Ryan and Hayden's mother stood beside her. As Hayden explains, the support from her soon-to-be staff is what stands out for her about her swearing-in ceremony: “There were so many staff members who were there in the mezzanine section, in particular, and they were clapping and cheering and had a welcome sign. That was such a wonderful feeling to know that the staff members were enthusiastic,” she says. Hayden fondly recalls meeting approximately 400 staff members who came to her ceremony. “It was really something. That was a big hearty welcome. I was really touched.”

8. SHE ENJOYS THE LIBRARY’S SPINACH SMOOTHIES.

People think of the library as a scholarly place, with its reading rooms, exhibits, and guided tours. But librarians and library visitors have to eat, too. The library offers several dining options, including the Madison Café, Jefferson Coffee Shop, and Madison Snack Bar (with a Subway and Dunkin Donuts). And if you visit the library and stop to have lunch, you might just run into the Librarian-in-Chief. “I love the Madison Café,” Hayden says. “There’s a Korean bowl that I’m pretty partial to, and now I’m doing the spinach smoothie. The variety is really good and you can bump into a Congressperson or staffer. It’s a nice cafeteria.”

9. HER JOB HELPS HER DEFEND DEMOCRACY.

In a 2016 interview with PBS NewsHour, Hayden explained that because libraries promote literacy and let everyone access information, they affirm freedom, democracy, and equality. “Libraries are a cornerstone of democracy—where information is free and equally available to everyone,” Hayden has said.

The Library of Congress also strives to be a role model for all libraries, serving as an example of how libraries can bolster freedom of thought, bring books into the digital age, and help people access valuable information.“Health information is just about the number one thing that people go into public libraries and connect to public libraries for. They’re also looking for information about things that can make their lives better,” Hayden tells PBS. “It’s a great equalizer.”

7 Top-Rated Portable Air Conditioners You Can Buy Right Now

Black + Decker/Amazon
Black + Decker/Amazon

The warmest months of the year are just around the corner (in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway), and things are about to get hot. To make indoor life feel a little more bearable, we’ve rounded up a list of some of the top-rated portable air conditioners you can buy online right now.

1. SereneLife 3-in-1 Portable Air Conditioner; $290

SereneLife air conditioner on Amazon.
SereneLife/Amazon

This device—currently the best-selling portable air conditioner on Amazon—is multifunctional, cooling the air while also working as a dehumidifier. Reviewers on Amazon praised this model for how easy it is to set up, but cautioned that it's not meant for large spaces. According to the manufacturer, it's designed to cool down rooms up to 225 square feet, and the most positive reviews came from people using it in their bedroom.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Black + Decker 14,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner and Heater; $417

Black + Decker portable air conditioner
Black+Decker/Amazon

Black + Decker estimates that this combination portable air conditioner and heater can accommodate rooms up to 350 square feet, and it even comes with a convenient timer so you never have to worry about forgetting to turn it off before you leave the house. The setup is easy—the attached exhaust hose fits into most standard windows, and everything you need for installation is included. This model sits around four stars on Amazon, and it was also picked by Wirecutter as one of the best values on the market.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Mikikin Portable Air Conditioner Fan; $45

Desk air conditioner on Amazon
Mikikin/Amazon

This miniature portable conditioner, which is Amazon's top-selling new portable air conditioner release, is perfect to put on a desk or end table as you work or watch TV during those sweltering dog days. It's currently at a four-star rating on Amazon, and reviewers recommend filling the water tank with a combination of cool water and ice cubes for the best experience.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Juscool Portable Air Conditioner Fan; $56

Juscool portable air conditioner.
Juscool/Amazon

This tiny air conditioner fan, which touts a 4.6-star rating, is unique because it plugs in with a USB cable, so you can hook it up to a laptop or a wall outlet converter to try out any of its three fan speeds. This won't chill a living room, but it does fit on a nightstand or desk to help cool you down in stuffy rooms or makeshift home offices that weren't designed with summer in mind.

Buy it: Amazon

5. SHINCO 8000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner; $320

Shinco portable air conditioner
SHINCO/Amazon

This four-star-rated portable air conditioner is meant for rooms of up to 200 square feet, so think of it for a home office or bedroom. It has two fan speeds, and the included air filter can be rinsed out quickly underneath a faucet. There's also a remote control that lets you adjust the temperature from across the room. This is another one where you'll need a window nearby, but the installation kit and instructions are all included so you won't have to sweat too much over setting it up.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Honeywell MN Series Portable Air Conditioner and Dehumidifier; $400

Honeywell air conditioner on Walmart.
Honeywell/Walmart

Like the other units on this list, Honeywell's portable air conditioner also acts as a dehumidifier or a standard fan when you just want some air to circulate. You can cool a 350-square-foot room with this four-star model, and there are four wheels at the bottom that make moving it from place to place even easier. This one is available on Amazon, too, but Walmart has the lowest price right now.

Buy it: Walmart

7. LG 14,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner; $699

LG Portable Air Conditioner.
LG/Home Depot

This one won't come cheap, but it packs the acclaim to back it up. It topped Wirecutter's list of best portable air conditioners and currently has a 4.5-star rating on Home Depot's website, with many of the reviews praising how quiet it is while it's running. It's one of the only models you'll find compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant, and it can cool rooms up to 500 square feet. There's also the built-in timer, so you can program it to go on and off whenever you want.

Buy it: Home Depot

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Meet Ice Cream Scientist Dr. Maya Warren

Maya Warren
Maya Warren

Most people don’t think about the chemistry in their cone when enjoying a scoop of ice cream, but as a professional ice cream scientist, Dr. Maya Warren can’t stop thinking about it. A lot of complex science goes into every pint of ice cream, and it’s her job to share that knowledge with the people who make it—and to use that information to develop some innovative flavors of her own.

Unlike many people’s idea of a typical scientist, Warren isn’t stuck in a lab all day. Her role as senior director for international research and development for Cold Stone Creamery takes her to countries around the world. And after winning the 25th season of The Amazing Race in 2014, she’s now back in front of the camera to host Ice Cream Sundays with Dr. Maya on Instagram. In honor of National Ice Cream Month this July, we spoke with Dr. Warren about her sweet job.

How did you get involved in food science?

I fell in love with science at a really young age. I got Gak as a kid, you know the Nickelodeon stuff? And I remember wanting to make my own Gak. I remember getting a little kit and putting together the glue and all the coloring and whatever else I needed to make it. I also had make-your-own gummy candy sets. So I was always into making things myself.

I didn't really connect that to chemistry until later on in life. When I was in high school, I fell in love with chemistry. I decided at that point I should go to college to become a high school chemistry teacher. One day I was over at my best friend's house in college, and she had the TV on in her apartment. I remember watching the Food Network and there was a show on called Unwrapped, and they go in and show you how food is made on a manufacturing, production scale. In that particular episode, they went into a flavor chemistry lab. It was basically a wall full of vials with clear liquid inside them. They were about to flavor soda to make it taste like different parts of a traditional Thanksgiving meal. So you had green bean casserole-flavored soda, you had turkey and gravy-flavored soda, cranberry sauce soda. And I was like, "Oh my gosh, like how disgusting is this? But how cool is this! I could do this. I'm a chemist."

I love the science of food and how intriguing it is, and I had to ask myself, "Maya, what do you love?" And I was like, "I love ice cream! I’m going to become one of the world’s experts in frozen aerated deserts." I found a professor at UW Madison [where I earned my Ph.D. in food science], Dr. Richard Hartel, and he took me under his wing. Six and half years later, I’ve become an expert in ice cream and all its close cousins.

How did you arrive at your current position?

I didn't actually apply for the job. Six years ago, I was running The Amazing Race, the television show on CBS. After I was on it, a lot of publications reached out wanting to interview me. I did a couple of interviews and someone from Cold Stone found my interview. They noticed that I’m a scientist, and they were looking for someone with my background, so they reached out to me. I was actually writing my dissertation, and I was like, "I'm not looking for a job right now. I just want to go home and sleep."

I originally told myself I wasn't going to work for a year because I was so exhausted after graduate school and I needed some time off. But I ended up going to their office in Scottsdale for an interview. At that time, I still wasn't sure if was going to do it or not because I didn't want to move to Arizona. It's just so incredibly hot. I ended up being able to work something out with them where I didn't have to move Arizona. I came on board back in 2016. I started as a consultant at first because I didn't want to move. But then I proved I could make this work from afar.

What does your job at Cold Stone Creamery entail?

I'm the senior director for international research and development for Cold Stone Creamery. A lot of what I do is establishing dairies and building ice cream mixes for countries all across the globe. Dairy is a very expensive commodity. Milk fat is quite pricey. Cold Stone has locations all over the world, and they all need ice cream mixes. But sometimes bringing that ice cream from the United States into that country is extremely expensive, because of conflicts, because of taxes, different importation laws. A lot of what I do is helping those countries figure out how they can build their own dairies, or how can they work with local dairies to make ice cream mixes more affordable.

The other part of what I do is create new ice cream flavors for these places. I look at a local ingredient and say, "I see people in this country eating a lot of blank. Why don’t we turn that into ice cream? How would people feel about that?" I try to get these places to realize that ice cream is so much more than a scoop. In the States, we have ice cream bars, ice cream floats, ice cream sandwiches. But many countries don’t see ice cream like that. So getting these places to come on board with different ideas and platforms to grow their business is a big part of my job.

Ice cream scientist Maya Warren.
Maya Warren

What’s your favorite ice cream flavor you made on the job?

I made a product called honey cornbread and blackberry jam ice cream. Ice cream to me is a blank canvas. You can throw all kinds of paint at it—blue and red and yellow and orange and metallic and glitter and whatever else you want—and it becomes this masterpiece. That's how I look at ice cream.

Ice cream starts out with a white base that's full of milk fat and sugar and nonfat dry milk. It’s plain, it’s simple. For this flavor, I thought, "Why don’t I throw cornbread in ice cream mix?" I put in some honey, because that’s a good sweetener, and a little sea salt, because salt elevates taste, especially in sweeter desserts. And why don’t I use blackberry jam? When you’re eating it, you feel the gritty texture of cornbread, which is quite interesting. You get that pop of the berry flavor. There’s a complexity to the flavors, which is what I enjoy about what you can do with ice cream.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

One of the most rewarding things is being able to produce a product and see people eat it. The other part of it is being able to have a hand in helping people in different countries get on their feet. Ice cream isn’t a luxury for many people in America, but there are people in other countries that would look at it that way. Being able to introduce ice cream to these countries is fascinating to me. And being able to provide job opportunities for people, that sincerely touches my heart.

The last part is the fact that when I tell people I’m an ice cream scientist, it doesn’t matter how old the person is, they can’t believe it. I’m like, "I know, could you imagine doing what you love every day?" And that’s what I do. I love ice cream.

What are some misconceptions about being an ice cream scientist?

When I tell people what I do, they automatically think I just put flavors in ice cream. They don’t know that there’s a whole other part of it before you get to adding flavor. They don't think about the balancing of a mix, the chemistry that goes into ice cream, the microbiology part that goes into ice cream, the flavor science that goes into ice cream. There’s so much hardcore science that goes into being an ice cream scientist. Ice cream, believe it or not, is one of the most complex foods known to man (and woman). It is a solid, it’s a gas, and it’s also a liquid all in one. So the solid phase comes in via the ice crystals and partially coalesced fat globules. The gas phase comes in via the air cells. Ice cream usually ranges from 27 to 30 percent overrun, which is the measurement of aeration in ice cream. You also have your liquid phase. There’s a semi-liquid to component to ice cream that we don’t see, but there’s a little bit of liquid in there.

People don’t think about ice crystals and air cells when they think about ice cream. They really don’t think partially coalesced fat globules. But it’s really fun to connect the science of ice cream to the common knowledge people have about this product they eat so much.

If you weren't doing this, what would you be doing?

If I wasn’t an ice cream scientist, I think that I would have been a motivational speaker. When I was a kid, my parents would send me to camp, and I remember having a lot of motivational speakers that would come in and talk to us. I always wanted to do that as a kid. So it’s either between that or a sport medicine doctor, because that was the track I was on in college. So if I didn’t figure out food science, I probably would have gone back to sports medicine. But I’m glad I didn’t go down that path, because I think I have one of the coolest and sweetest jobs—pun intended—that exists on planet Earth.

You’ve been hosting Ice Cream Sundays on Instagram Live since May. What inspired this?

At the beginning of quarantine, I was like, "What am I going to do? I can't travel anywhere. What am I going to do with all this extra time?" I was on Instagram, and I started seeing people at the very beginning of this make all this bread. And I was like, "I need to start talking about ice cream more. Ice cream can’t be left out of this conversation."

I started making ice cream and posting here and there, and people would ask me about it, and I would ask them, "Do you have an ice cream maker?" I put a poll up and 70, 80 percent of people who replied did not have ice cream makers. So I was like, "How am I going to make people happy with ice cream if all I do is show photos and they can’t make it?" Then I decided to make a no-churn ice cream. That’s not how you make it in the industry, but it’s how you make it at home if you don’t have an ice cream machine. I think it was around May 3, I decided I was going to do an Instagram Live. I’m going to call it Ice Cream Sundays with Dr. Maya, and I’ll just see where it goes from there.

I did one, and from the beginning, people were so in love with it. Then I thought, "Whoa, I guess I should continue doing this." I’ve made a calendar. People really attend. People make the ice cream. People watch me on Live. I’ve always wanted to have a television show on ice cream. I figured, if I can’t do a show on ice cream right now on a major network, I might as well start a show on Instagram.

What advice do you give to young people interested in becoming ice cream scientists?

My advice is: If you want to do it, do it. Don’t forget to work hard, but have fun along the way. And if ice cream isn’t necessarily the realm for you, make sure whatever you do makes your heart flutter. My heart flutters when I think about ice cream. I am so intrigued with it. So if you find something that makes your heart flutter, no one can ever take away your desire for it. If it is ice cream, we can get down and dirty with it. I can tell them about the science behind it, the biology, the microbiology that goes into ice cream itself. But I just encourage people to follow their heart and have fun with whatever they do.

What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?

If we’re talking just general flavors, I love a good cookies and cream. I’m an Oreo fan. I also make a double butter candy pecan that is my absolute jam.