EPL board defends director, acknowledges lack of diversity


Daily file photo by Nathan Richards

Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave. EPL’s Board of Trustees released a statement Tuesday in support of director Karen Danczak Lyons.

Kristina Karisch, Assistant City Editor

The Evanston Public Library’s Board of Trustees released a statement Tuesday in support of director Karen Danczak Lyons, who has faced criticism for disciplinary actions taken against a popular librarian.

The statement follows a public protest last week over a disciplinary hearing for head of adult services Lesley Williams, who said she has been on paid administrative leave since April 18. Library officials have repeatedly declined to discuss the nature of the hearing, but Williams said she expects a decision within the week. She added that the charge could range from a reprimand to an unpaid suspension.

The board said in its statement that it had renewed Danczak Lyons’ contract on April 19, a day before the protest occurred. In the statement, the board expressed support for Danczak Lyons and decried recent criticisms of her and the library.

“The unsubstantiated social media attacks on EPL undermine our strategic plan; demoralize our wonderful and hard-working staff; and threaten to burn the bridges EPL has sought to build throughout our city,” the statement reads. “Further, these recent attacks convey the innuendo that no other EPL employee promotes social harmony, equity, and racial justice. That is flatly wrong and it is offensive.”

Tiffany Rice, an Evanston resident who attended the rally, criticized Danczak Lyons in an open letter posted in March.

“(Her) pattern of behavior … makes me question her commitment to Evanston’s African-American community and providing access to information desired by our city’s people of color,” she said in the letter.

The letter also contains a series of unsubstantiated ethics claims against Danczak Lyons, including an allegation that she has insufficiently increased access to library materials and services for low-income families in Evanston.

Danczak Lyons was not available for comment, but has previously declined to discuss matters of personnel.

The board’s statement refutes those claims, citing the increase of programs like early child literacy initiatives, the hiring of a full-time social worker and the adoption of the American Library Association’s statement on Equity of Access.

“During the five years Karen has been at EPL’s helm, by any subjective or objective criterion, EPL has experienced a renaissance,” the statement said.

Nevertheless, the board said it could do more to address diversity issues at the library. Williams is currently the only black librarian on staff, though she said there are other black employees.

According to the most recent data from the ALA, about 5 percent of all credentialed librarians are African American, and about 3 percent are Latinx.

“The Board and its Director do recognize that there is a paucity of degreed librarians of color at EPL,” the statement said. “This problem is not restricted to EPL; the entire public library field is grappling with it.”

Though Williams said she was unable to comment on the exact nature of the charges against her, she said she believes they cover a series of four “incidents” beginning in September 2016. Williams said she was unsure why the charges were made now.

Williams said she is currently unable to access her office phone or library email, and that programming she had scheduled for the week will either not take place or will have to be covered by one of her staff members.

“The way that this happened really makes me feel like somebody was collecting a lot of incidents in order to build a case against me,” Williams said.

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Twitter: @kristinakarisch