Suspension of Evanston Public Library’s Only Black Librarian, Lesley Williams Catalyzed Call for Accountability
Evanston, IL—(ENEWSPF)–May 6, 2017 – On Thursday May 4th, a coalition of 20 Evanston residents rallied in front of the Evanston Public Library to demand an equity audit of library services, collections, and policies. Although concern over the Library’s level of service to African American, Latinx Americans and low income residents has been an ongoing concern for years, the current protest was sparked by the three week suspension of Lesley Williams, the library’s only African American librarian. Williams has been a vocal advocate for more equitable library service throughout the Evanston community.
Rally organizers met at Fountain Square at 6:30pm, then marched over to the front of the library on Church Street. The rally was timed to coincide with the Library’s Annual Donor Recognition Event, which is attended by dozens of library financial supporters. Some people carried copies of A Tale of Two Evanstons? A Call for Racial Equity at Evanston Public Library.
“We are NOT discouraging people from donating to the library,” said rally point person Brant Rosen. “The purpose is not to hurt the library, but rather to make donors and the board think a little harder about who they are actually serving and how they could be doing a more intentional job of reaching communities in need of library services.”
Tania Richard, an Evanston resident, attended the rally with her 6- and 9-year-old daughters. They carried signs that read “Actors have equity: Why don’t libraries?” and “The Grinch who stole equity.”
Richard, who co-hosts a podcast called Race Bait, said she came to the rally to advocate for equal library resources for people of color looking for representation. “I just want to make sure there aren’t limited resources, that the resources are plentiful for people of color in the library,” Richard said.
Shawn Iles, a member of EPL’s Board of Trustees, spoke to attendees during the rally. He emphasized the library’s commitment to equity and its cognizance of residents’ concerns, although he said he was unable to comment on personnel matters. “We’re more than happy to have a public discussion about equity,” Iles told the crowd. “The debate that we need to have is whether we want to hire our own equity consultant … or whether we can work through the city. At the next (Board of Trustees) meeting, I want to start a conversation about (equity).”
Board President Michael Tannen appeared briefly to say only that “they are trying to tell us what a horrible job we are doing”, before returning to the invitation-only donor’s event inside. Library director Karen Danczak-Lyons did not appear at the rally.
The next Evanston Library Public Board meeting is May 17th at 6:30pm at the Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Avenue, Evanston.