Her supporters say the Pratt has gotten a fresh outlook - and a $60 million expansion and renovation of the central building that is under way - because of Hayden.
"She's a visionary for how to move forward in the next century. When we hired Carla, we needed a lot of help," said Margot "Peggy" Heller, president of the Pratt's board of directors. "The branch closings were exceedingly painful, but carried out with great care. The library is 24-7 in her life."
Hayden said her interest in libraries started when she was young and spent summers with her grandparents in Springfield, Ill. She often visited the state capital's grand library.
"Just the idea of going into the stacks, being surrounded by books," said Hayden, who grew up to earn a doctorate at the University of Chicago.
A librarian at church who collected books about African-Americans also made a deep impression on her as a child, she said.
Her mother, Colleen Hayden, a retired social worker from Chicago, said it was clear that her daughter had a kinship with libraries from a young age.
"She had to balance her allowance between library fines and ice cream cones," Colleen Hayden said.
The book closest to Hayden's young heart was Bright April, a 1946 book by Marguerite de Angeli. "April was a Brownie with two pigtails, an African-American child I could relate to, and the pictures are pretty," Hayden said. "I still remember the affection I felt for that book."
The book deals with blacks who died in the Revolutionary War, the shadows cast by segregation, and overcoming racial prejudice in making friends.
Hayden, who is single and lives in Cross Keys, admits to having a penchant for mystery novels. On her bedside table at home, she said, are two of Baltimore mystery writer Laura Lippman's books, a book about Queen Elizabeth I's leadership qualities, and Vernon Jordan's autobiography.
By her own admission, she is not a deep-thinking intellectual who goes to the symphony or theater. Watching football is her favorite sports pastime.
"I'm not that complicated, OK," she said. "I'm pretty straightforward with my Midwestern roots. I used to read deep books, but War and Peace, well, I haven't got to it lately."