EPL board discusses Lesley Williams controversy, new location


Daily file photo by Nathan Richards

The outside of Evanston Public Library. The library’s board discussed plans for a new branch and took comments regarding popular librarian Lesley Williams.

Zoe Miller, Reporter

Evanston Public Library’s Board of Trustees discussed plans to build a new library branch and responded to public comments criticizing the library’s handling of popular librarian Lesley Williams in a meeting Wednesday.

The board listened to comments from members of the public who attended the meeting. Multiple speakers from the audience expressed disapproval for Williams’ suspension and possible termination, and some accused the board of racism.

“White people need to get over a fear of being called racist,” said Alyce Berry, a member of the Evanston political activism group Organization for Positive Action and Leadership.

Berry also called for board president Michael Tannen and vice president Margaret Lurie to step down.

Some attendees said they were suspicious of the board’s removal of Williams because the board refused to disclose additional information about the reasons for her termination hearing.

Documents previously obtained by The Daily from Evanston’s public records portal showed that members of the library board criticized Williams and discussed her removal for years before she was suspended in late April. She returned to work May 24 but was suspended again shortly after criticizing EPL flyers that highlighted the library’s dedication to “free & equal access for all,” writing in a Facebook post that the library’s equality efforts were limited to the signs.

Board co-treasurer Benjamin Schapiro said the board cannot disclose further information about the reasons for Williams’ possible termination because of state law regarding confidentiality.

“There is a requirement under state law that personnel matters be kept quiet and confidential,” Schapiro said. “If you would like us to be transparent, then this board would be in violation of state law. That would be incredibly inappropriate of us to do so.”

The board also addressed preliminary plans to rebuild the Robert Crown Center, which currently houses a community center and ice rink, into a new library branch.

Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons said that construction of the new library will likely begin in 2018 and is expected to be completed by 2019.

“I’m hoping it will be open before school starts (in 2019),” Danczak Lyons said. “(The new branch) will include technology and community rooms and spaces to meet and learn together.”

Tannen stressed the need to provide adequate library access to all Evanston residents. He also mentioned the possibility of forming a committee to improve equity in the library system.

“We are going to be doing an equity, diversity and inclusion assessment,” Tannen said. “We hope to be able to form an ad hoc committee of trustees and staff and potentially members of the public.”

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