Back in November 2016, I interviewed Stacey Gibson, a race and equity expert, about why she believed the Evanston Public Library should do a racial-equity audit. At the time, several EPL board members, including the past Board President, were adamantly against conducting such an audit. One board member even threatened to resign if an equity audit was undertaken (she is still on the board). The board president at the time said that equity was "in the Library's DNA."
Eventually, after significant and ongoing pressure from community activists, the Library hired DeEtta Jones of Next Generation Leadership, and finally embarked on an almost yearlong equity assessment, which included interviewing a variety of people throughout the community.
The Library published DeEtta Jones' report last month. You can read it here, or in hard copy at any library location.
The document shares perspectives and insights from a wide range of Evanston community members (more than 100 members of the EPL community and staff were interviewed and provided input reflected in the report). The report, which makes recommendations for future actions, addresses Evanston's history of racism in general, and perceptions of the library's approach to race and equity in particular.
While many of the people interviewed were "quite generous with their description of the library's efforts and staff members' intentions," according to Jones, many also expressed an "array of hurts and disappointments that represent a more tangled web of the complex history and relationships that are Evanston."
Over and over, Jones says, the theme emerged that the Library has a responsibility to serve all members of the community, that its priority should be those with least access, but that those most in need “are often the least able to fully access and use the services available to them.”
The assessment and report focuses explicitly on race, class, and the marginalization that has resulted from real and perceived barriers from people from non-dominant groups.
"This focus is not to exclude other groups or issues, but to devote attention, skill-building, and relationships" to racial equity, Jones says.
One of the recommendations in Jones' report is that the library find a way, within a year's time, "to establish a meaningful presence in the Fifth Ward, one that is informed by people who live in that community."
The report offers 10 additional recommendations for action to achieve racial equity, which, the report states, "regardless of the reality of budget limitations facing EPL, other libraries, and City departments, all of these recommendations are actionable."
Action steps recommended are:
1. Issue a statement that explicitly recognizes historic racism in Evanston and commits the Library to social justice.
2. Invest in cultural competence development for EPL leadership and staff.
3. Develop a talent management plan that identifies goals for hiring, developing, and promoting people of color.
4. Create a group focused on equity and race composed of Library staff and community members.
5. Create and use metrics to assess and adjust efforts in support of the Library’s EDI (Equity, Diversity, Inclusion) values.
6. Expand book collections that reflect the needs and interests of the Black and Latinx communities.
7. Continue supporting culture-specific engagement specialists.
8. Shift the focus of communications from the multitude of programs and services to engagement.
9. Embed EDI into the Library’s ongoing communication strategy.
10. Work with other City agencies to advance Library and City EDI goals.
Now it's your turn!
The library is asking to hear from Evanston residents about the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion report and has provided a feedback form to learn more about Evanston residents' experiences with the EPL as it relates to equity, diversity, and inclusion.
Take the time to share your thoughts. You can fill it out online by clicking here, or or on a hard copy paper version at all library locations. Comments are due October 31.