Popular EPL librarian says she has received 15-day unpaid suspension


Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Lesley Williams speaks to reporters after her disciplinary hearing last week. Williams told The Daily on Thursday she had been suspended without pay for 15 days.

David Fishman, City Editor

Lesley Williams told The Daily on Thursday she had been suspended without pay from the Evanston Public Library after a disciplinary hearing last week — for which the reason remains unknown — drew dozens of community members in support of the librarian.

Williams, who has been on paid administrative leave since April 18, said the suspension will begin on Monday and last 15 days. She added that she was in the process of “checking my options with my council,” but declined to elaborate.

The decision comes after a public protest over Williams’ disciplinary hearing last week, which drew dozens of local residents and advocacy organizations. Williams is the only black librarian at EPL, and has been active in local advocacy on behalf of minority communities. In a statement, Williams called into question the timing of her disciplinary hearing, which she said came after four charges and stemmed in part from an incident in September.

Williams said none of the charges involved criminal behavior, sexual or financial improprieties: One involved her handling of a library speaker, one involved an interaction with a “disruptive” patron and two involved communication with co-workers. She said she has refuted all the charges and believes they are “completely without merit.”

“A fair-minded person would have to ask, why this level of intense and vindictive action now? Why this apparent shoring up of charges, based on manipulations of the facts?” Williams said in a statement. “Other staff members are not treated this way.”

The EPL board of trustees released a statement Tuesday expressing support for the library’s director and denouncing recent criticism of EPL. The statement, however, did not include details of Williams’ disciplinary hearing. EPL community engagement coordinator Jill Schacter told The Daily in an email Thursday that “disciplinary issues are confidential.”

“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 board’s statement said. “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.”

Still, the board said it could do more to address diversity issues at the library, citing statistics that show about 5 percent of all credentialed librarians are African American, and about 3 percent are Latinx.

For her part, Williams vowed to return to her position as head of adult services — which she has held since 1997 — after the suspension and resume work. Over the past week, Williams said she had received support from “hundreds of people” in Evanston and around the country.

“This shows that what I do at the library is appreciated very much by people outside of the library,” she told The Daily. “I’m not going anywhere.”

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