Tonight at 6:30 p.m., the agenda for the Evanston Public Library's Board of Trustees will include a report from its Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Joint Committee and a new-business discussion and re-evaluation about the future of the library's branch locations, particularly as that pertains to reaching residents in the 5th, 8th, and 9th wards, which the Library's recent equity audit considers underserved.
At the start of the meeting, there will be opportunity for 45 minutes of public comment. I encourage you to sign up to speak and to encourage the Library board to make sure that library locations are based on need (5th, 8th and 9th wards), not tradition or influence (North branch on Central St.). The board must ask which neighborhoods have the least access to educational and computer resources, or have the most unemployment or lowest average income?
That is where branches should go, and that means, as beloved as it is, that the North branch must move from Central Street.
The library's north branch has a Black Lives Matter sign in its window. Now's the time to turn symbol into substance and action--and move the branch to where it is most needed.
I encourage you to join the meeting if you can, and make public comment if you'd like. The time to engage with the library is now, while it is considering these issues, rather than reacting to decisions after they have been made!
Join the Zoom Meeting.
Meeting ID: 927 7058 4540
Sign up to provide public comment by phone or video during the meeting. Public comment takes place for 45 minutes at the start of the meeting.
On June 7, 2017, Dear Evanston published a post, "If the Library's doing Equity Right, Let an Audit Bring that to Light," pointing out that the Evanston Public Library leadership had been asked for some time by many in our community to embark on the same journey as many of the city's other institutions and organizations and examine how they address equity or failed to do so. At the time, the library board remained vehemently opposed to an equity audit.
Then, 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. The board president at the time said that equity was "in the Library's DNA."
In 2017, 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 100 residents throughout the community, as well as Library staff and board members. Based on a recommendation in the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion report, which was released in September 2018, the Library created a Racial Equity Task Force, designed to represent the voices of people of color in the community and comprising community members, staff, and two board members.
The report offered 11 findings that mostly focused on the Black and Latinx communities and the 5th ward. Some recommendations were that the Library shift its emphasis from serving everyone to serving those with the most needs, developing cultural competence in its collections, its atmosphere, and its hiring practices.
In May, the EPL moved to a fine-free policy on all library materials, in line with its push to make library services more accessible to the community.
Where the library locates its branches will speak volumes to its commitment to doing equity right.