EPL workshopping new services, gathering feedback to improve inclusivity


Daily file photo by Nathan Richards

Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave. The library staff members plan to expand the book collections and introduce a mobile library.

Samantha Handler, Copy Chief

Evanston Public Library is collecting feedback from community members, planning to expand its book collections and working to introduce a mobile library — an effort to make its services more inclusive.

These steps follow the release of the library’s equity, diversity and inclusion report in September. The report — commissioned by the library and conducted by the minority- and woman-owned consulting firm DeEtta Jones and Associates — detailed several recommendations, including hiring more people of color, creating an innovative approach to service the 5th Ward and expanding book collections to represent and be more accessible to black and Latinx communities.

Latino outreach librarian Mariana Bojorquez said she has been working on expanding the book collection by going to book fairs and talking to patrons about what they want to see on the shelves. She also has been visiting buildings and stores to ask community members how the library can be more equitable.

“We want to be authentic,” Bojorquez said. “I don’t want to just go to some organization or event, put down my table and be like, ‘OK this is it. I did what I needed to do.’ It’s more like active, authentic engagement. Going to the people.”

Additionally, library director Karen Danczak Lyons said EPL is working on creating a mobile library that could bring books and laptops or create pop-up computer classes around Evanston.

Bojorquez said this active engagement can help make the library “more welcoming.”

But she’s also heard residents, especially from the Latinx community, express a desire for a bilingual after-school homework program run by the library. And Bojorquez agreed with the need to increase diversity among library staff. Bojorquez, a person of color, took over her position in August, but the report indicated that the role has experienced turnover in the past.

“When you walk into any type of building and you don’t see people like you or you dont know people can speak your language or understand your culture, you’re reserved,” Bojorquez said. “You’re less likely to reach out to staff. You’re less likely to really be able to do well with the resources or learn about all the opportunities that that a specific organization — in this case the library — can give you.”

Following the release of the report, Danczak Lyons said the library would collect public comment on its contents through October. However, Danczak Lyons said she has extended the comment period through November after staff received “very little” input.

She added that the library has translated the report and a comment page in Spanish.

Danczak Lyons has also attended city budget hearings and held her own meetings at community centers in the 5th Ward. She said she has reached out to the 5th, 8th and 9th Ward aldermen to find out what services their residents would be interested in and what the best places would be in each ward to set up the new mobile library.

“I wanted to take the next step, which is really to engage with the community, to listen carefully,” Danczak Lyons said, “and decide how we can help in ways that are valid to them so the communities are co-creating library services with us.”

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