Residents call for library equity audit


Katie Pach/Daily Senior Staffer

A girl stands in front of the main branch of the Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave. Evanston residents gathered Thursday at a rally to demand an equity audit of the library’s services.

Kristina Karisch, Assistant City Editor

Evanston residents gathered outside the main branch of the Evanston Public Library on Thursday to demand an equity audit of the library’s services, collections and policies.

The crowd of about 20 residents held signs calling for equity — some making a play on words using book titles — and handed out information sheets detailing their proposed plan. Questions of equity have been raised at EPL in recent weeks following the suspension of Lesley Williams, EPL’s only black librarian, after a disciplinary hearing held April 20.

“There’s an observable history of institutionalized racism in our community, as there is in most communities,” the information sheet read. “We need to examine that history and commit to the change needed to stop replicating patterns of loss, lack and inequity.”

The rally was planned to coincide with the library’s Donor Recognition Event. Brant Rosen, a rabbi and the Midwest regional director of the American Friends Service Committee, said he wanted to organize the rally at the same time as the event to convince supporters of the library to support the audit as well.

“The first step would be to hire consultants to do an actual racial equity audit of the entire library system to see how well it serves the diversity of the population of Evanston,” Rosen said. “Then (they would) come up with recommendations so they can address these issues.”

Rosen said he has been advocating for equity for some time, but the recent situation concerning Williams heightened people’s awareness. Rosen said he is a colleague and friend of Williams, whom he credits to raising his own awareness of the issue.

Williams was suspended without pay from EPL after a disciplinary hearing held at the end of April. She has been active in local advocacy on behalf of minority communities.

Following her suspension, Williams released a statement in which she 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.

In the statement, Williams said none of the charges involved criminal behavior, sexual or financial improprieties: One involved her handling of a library speaker, one concerned her 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.”

Shawn Iles, a member of EPL’s Board of Trustees, spoke to attendees during the rally. He emphasized the library’s commitment to equity and its cognizance of residents’ concerns. Iles told The Daily he was unable to comment on personnel matters.

“We’re more than happy to have a public discussion about equity,” Iles told The Daily. “The debate that we need to have is whether we want to hire our own equity consultant … or whether we can work through the city. At the next (Board of Trustees) meeting, I want to start a conversation about (equity).”

Tania Richard, an Evanston resident, attended the rally with her 6- and 9-year-old daughters. They sported signs that read “Actors have equity: Why don’t libraries?” and “The Grinch who stole equity.”

Richard, who co-hosts a podcast called Race Bait on which Williams was recently a guest, said she came to the rally to advocate for equal library resources for people of color looking for representation.

She spoke about going to the library with her daughters to check out books in the “Anna Hibiscus” series by Atinuke, which tell the story of a girl in an interracial African-Canadian family. Often, Richard said, there are not enough copies of the book to go around. Richard used this experience as an example to teach her daughters about equity.

“I just want to make sure there aren’t limited resources, that the resources are plentiful for people of color in the library,” Richard said. “That’s just a small example for them, and for me being able to talk to them about the whole community being served.”

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Twitter: @kristinakarisch