Evanston Public Library seeks community applicants for Racial Equity Task Force


Daily file photo by Nathan Richards

Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave. The EPL is seeking community members to apply for its Racial Equity Task Force.

Clare Proctor, Reporter

The Evanston Public Library is accepting applications from community members interested in joining its Racial Equity Task Force.

EPL launched the application May 1 and is seeking up to six community members to offer feedback and make recommendations for how the library can better integrate diversity, equity and inclusion into the services.

EPL board president Ben Schapiro said racial equity has been a “growing concern” for the board. He said there has been a “circle of inequity of how services are distributed,” and the board hopes the task force will help address that.

“While the board represents a diverse population in the city, it may not know or see everything or understand everything in the same way that other members of the community can,” Schapiro said. “We’re looking for this group to help us formulate responses to our problem with not having good services everywhere in the community that we wish we had.”

Forming the task force was one of the recommendations made by DeEtta Jones and Associates, a consulting group that addresses workplace equity, diversity and inclusion, said library director Karen Danczak Lyons. The firm produced a community report for the library, Danczak Lyons said, which looked into how the library can better address racial equity issues.

Danczak Lyons said EPL has been trying to increase its diversity by having board meetings at various locations throughout the city, but the task force will allow for a more “structured conversation” around diversity and equity.

“We’re hoping to draw a diverse group of residents with lived experience who will share their thoughts, and have a conversation with them,” Danczak Lyons said. “It does no good to engage with people if you don’t have somebody sitting across the table from me that wants to talk.”

The application allows residents to voice their thoughts without being “overly cumbersome,” Danczak Lyons said. Since it went live, EPL has already received applications.

Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th), who shared the application on Facebook, said “every entity plays a role” in either creating disparities or alleviating them. She said she is hopeful of what the task force will accomplish.

Board member Ruth Hays said the library acts as a “settlement house,” providing a place for residents to develop job skills, access social services and work on literacy.

“In light of that changing role that the library plays, it’s really critical to make sure that all people in the community have a place at the table who are deciding what it should be doing, what the priority should be and how we should proceed in the future,” Hays said.

Hays said the task force will be important in future decision-making as well, especially because a new library branch is set to open in the renovated Robert Crown Community Center.

EPL is accepting applications through June 1, and plans to select up to six community members for the task force, which will also include up to two board members. Schapiro said the board plans to make selections within a month of the application deadline.

“We want to be thoughtful about this, but we don’t want to be slow about it either,” Schapiro said. “If you’re interested in helping the library develop its policies towards outreach and developing a response to that looks at the city’s needs through an equity lens, then I want you to apply.”

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