EPL Racial Equity Task Force receives new applications, collects data on demographics of library users


Daily file photo by Madison Smith

Applications to join the Evanston Public Library’s Racial Equity Task Force closed Oct. 16.

Saul Pink, Assistant City Editor

Evanston Public Library closed a new round of applications this week for its Racial Equity Task Force, a group that focuses on expanding the library’s outreach to underserved residents, particularly from Evanston’s 5th, 8th and 9th wards. 

The task force was founded in 2019 after consulting firm DeEtta Jones & Associates prepared an equity, diversity and inclusion report for the library and found that some Black and Latine Evanston residents did not feel welcome at the city’s libraries, according to Terry Soto, an EPL Board of Trustees and task force member.

The consulting firm spoke with various Black and Latine community members, who cited the lack of a library branch in the 5th Ward and few Spanish-language items in EPL’s collection as reasons why they don’t use the library.

“The impetus was that we could get community input as to how we could do outreach differently, or just what can be done so that all residents feel welcome in the library, regardless of your racial or ethnic background, language spoken or anything else,” Soto said.

The group is composed of Evanston residents from various wards, members of the EPL Board and library staff. Library staff and trustees look to put together a task force of people with a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds and a variety of professions to serve two-year terms, EPL Board President and former task force member Tracy Fulce said.

One of the biggest projects the task force focuses on is collecting data on library card holders, Fulce said. EPL now asks new and current library card holders about their racial background, native languages and address information.

“It doesn’t sound very sexy to talk about collecting demographic data, but really understanding how our resources are being used,” Fulce said. “I think that data collection really has helped the staff to really leverage our resources efficiently and effectively.”

EPL has two branches, its main library at 1703 Orrington Ave. in the 1st Ward and a branch at the Robert Crown Community Center in the 4th Ward. The library shuttered its Chicago Avenue/Main Street and North branches in August 2020 to redistribute resources to the Robert Crown branch.

The task force has also implemented a land acknowledgement for the library to put on its website and to be read aloud at programs and created Spanish-language videos promoting the library’s services. 

EPL received a few dozen applications for an undetermined number of open seats on the task force, said Jenette Sturges, EPL’s communications and marketing manager. The task force does not have a set number of members. Trustees and staff will conduct short interviews with the applicants to learn about their visions for the library.

In the past, the task force has incorporated stakeholders from around the city, such as Evanston/Skokie School District 65 teachers and Northwestern students, Fulce said. The library also aims to include Evanston residents of marginalized identities in the group.

The task force’s new members will arrive as the library looks toward a period of change.  Former Executive Director Karen Danczak Lyons stepped down in April, after which Heather Norborg, EPL’s adult learning and literacy manager, took over as interim director. Soto said she hopes the task force is involved in the search for a new library director.

Sturges said the task force will continue to advise the library from a broad perspective, mainly focusing on how to diversify its staff, collection and outreach efforts.

“The task force is one of the ways that we’re working to address that problem of representation and voices,” Sturges said. “Because when you’re talking about libraries, you’re talking about who controls or who promotes information of all kinds.”

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @saullpink

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