EPL board reiterates commitment to diversity, declines to discuss Williams’ suspension


Allie Goulding/The Daily Northwestern

A man speaks at Evanston Public Library’s board meeting Wednesday. Members of the library’s board defended their commitment to diversity and inclusion at the meeting.

Syd Stone, Assistant City Editor

Members of Evanston Public Library’s Board of Trustees reiterated their commitment to diversity while declining to address the cause of the recent suspension of popular librarian Lesley Williams at a public meeting Wednesday.

At the regularly scheduled meeting, several Evanston residents asked the board to consider an independent equity audit of the library’s services, collections and policies. However, EPL board president Michael Tannen said equity audits are “almost exclusively” used for public schools and rarely used for libraries.

Instead, Tannen said he hopes EPL director Karen Danczak Lyons will look into other libraries’ actions to ensure equity. Tannen said he sees a disparity between the library’s outreach efforts and the way the community sees equity at EPL.

“Our board and our staff is absolutely committed to equity and diversity — it’s embedded in our DNA,” he said.

Tannen said he met with former Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and current Mayor Steve Hagerty — as well as equity and empowerment coordinator Rev. Dr. Patricia Efiom — about EPL’s role in creating diverse environments within the community.

Another meeting was also held between library leadership and representatives from the NAACP and the Organization for Positive Action and Leadership.

Multiple residents at the meeting Wednesday brought up Williams’ suspension. Last month, the librarian was suspended without pay from EPL for unknown reasons. She has been active in local advocacy on behalf of marginalized communities.

Williams has previously told The Daily none of the charges made against her involved criminal behavior, or sexual or financial improprieties. She has also 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 last month. “Other staff members are not treated this way.”

Tannen said the personnel matter of Williams’ suspension is “not really relevant” to a discussion of the library’s equity and inclusion. He urged residents at the meeting to consider the library’s extensive diversity efforts.

Board member Tori Foreman said she was “disappointed” by the community’s response to Williams’ suspension. She said she thinks people protested without knowing all of the facts and that the library has become more inclusive over the years.

“It’s insulting to say that one person of color here is the hallmark of diversity when the whole entire staff here is committed to diversity,” Foreman said.

Library officials have repeatedly declined to share the details of Williams’ case, citing a policy not to discuss matters of personnel.

Tannen said protests against the library are “counterproductive” because they could discourage people of color from working there. They also could discourage people from donating money to the library that would fund programs to promote diversity, he said.

While Danczak Lyons said the library “welcome(s) everyone,” she added officials should look for better ways to advertise librarian positions to people of color. Danczak Lyons said that the reason why EPL has only one full-time black librarian can be traced to a larger issue of equal representation in the field.

A study from the American Library Association shows roughly 5 percent of all credentialed librarians are African American, and about 3 percent are Latinx.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the board also approved contracts for the North Branch renovation and Main Library generator engineering projects, as well as the extension of an employee’s contract.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated when meetings between EPL and various community leaders occurred. There were two separate meetings. The Daily regrets the error.

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