Increasing space to serve Evanston’s minority populations permeated the list of 11 recommendations from equity consultant DeEtta Jones and Associates (DJA), the company engaged by the Library several months ago to conduct an equity audit. The space can be physical – a Fifth Ward branch would be optimal, as would be additional multicultural material – or atmospheric, so more people of color would be welcome.
About 70% of DJA clients are libraries, and Ms. Jones has worked within and across the library professional community since 1996.
For several years, the focus of the American Library Association has been threefold – equity, diversity and inclusion, or EDI – said Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons. The 37-page DJA report – which consists of analyses and recommendations – focused mainly on race, finding that race is one of the major concerns in this community.
The Report: Racial Concerns and Paradigm Shifts
The report begins with “Evanston’s History of Racism,” recounting the redlining and refusal to insure mortgages in the Black area of Evanston by government agencies. “Systemic discrimination and disenfranchisement of communities of color have contributed to decades of unequal socioeconomic opportunities, class and racial segregation, and limited public services created to benefit or support these communities.” The report noted that Blacks make up the largest minority group in Evanston, at 18.1%, according to the 2010 census figures, and that the Latinx and the Asian populations are each at about 9%.
The study noted not just a racial but also an economic divide. Citing U.S. Census figures, the report said in 2016 the median household income in Evanston was $71,000 – about a $3,000 increase since 2010 – and the average household income was $110,000. Nearly 15% of the households in 2016 had incomes greater than $200,000, a percentage nearly matched by the number of people living in poverty – 13.7%.
Ms. Jones and her associates spoke with nearly 100 community members – library staff, trustees and supporters and people representing diverse cultural backgrounds and community organizations.
They compiled and prioritized the 11 recommendations, most of which focused on the Black and Latinx communities and on the historic Black area of Evanston, which for a time had its own branch library. Recommendations for places even farther from the Main Library or a branch – such as southwest Evanston – did not appear in the report, presumably folded into recommendations about programming in the new Robert Crown branch library.
Upfront, the report acknowledged that the Library is doing many things very well and that it has already implemented some of the recommendations and had done so even before DJA become involved. It also noted that the Library has limited resources but said these recommendations can be implemented or at least begun in the near term. (See sidebar).
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.
By Skype at the Library Board’s Sept. 26 meeting, Ms. Jones highlighted a few of the recommendations and some of the things the Library is doing right. The launch of the EDI committee, even before DJA was engaged, shows that “the Library has been making an investment [in EDI] and has demonstrated a commitment to continuing to invest in it.”
In conversations here, Ms. Jones said, “I quickly came to understand that race is a very pronounced issue in Evanston because of history de facto and de jure segregation.”
Historic Racism: Acknowledging the historic racism in Evanston is something that “everyone needs to do,” Ms. Jones said. She said she thought the Library should issue a joint public statement with the City of Evanston. “People need to heal from the past in order to look forward. The statement needs to acknowledge the real pain people have experienced from racism and classism,” she said.
Cultural Competence: Because some of the people interviewed said they did not “feel welcome” at the Library, DJA recommends that the Library develop cultural competence. When Library staff asked for examples, Ms. Jones said information advertising the Dia de los Muertos celebration, as well as the celebration itself, was in English. A second example is that some people have said they feel Black youth are reprimanded more quickly and more intensely than White youth for the same types of infraction – e.g., running or talking loudly.
Hiring Goals: The Library should have a goal of hiring more people of color. “This is a national issue,” Ms. Jones said. Economics complicates this issue. Much of the staff is part-time, and the City does not have information on part-time employees, she said. Further, many potential employees of color cannot afford to work only part time. Other reasons given for not having persons of color at the top of the administration seemed to be barriers rather than explanations, Ms. Jones said. Qualifications for employment at high administrative levels, such as education, credentials and certification could be modified, she said,
Metrics: The strong recommendation, Ms. Jones said, is that the Library prioritize its needs to deliver more services to those most in need rather than providing services to everyone in the community. This recommendation is contrary to the Library’s stated promise of delivering services to everyone, and the report notes the divergence. There is a “clear ideological difference between what the Library’s leadership believes is the role of the public library and the sentiments of many of the people interviewed. Leadership espouses making ‘services available to all citizens,' whereas many community members believe that ‘those with the most need should be given priority.’”
Other communities have attempted to resolve this difference in approach and perspective by forming groups of community members to enhance engagement. Should the Library decide to launch such a group, the focus should be on “strategic topics like building rapport within and across diverse segments of the community, identifying and supporting new or emerging diversity-related initiatives and ensuing ongoing effective community between the Library and the community,” according to the report.
Fifth Ward Branch: The closing of the Fifth Ward Branch of the library in 1981 remains a wound in that community, Ms. Jones said. One community member noted the intense use by all ages of Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center and the Weissbourd-Holmes Family Focus building and the nearby bus transportation on Emerson Street and said, “We are right there and would use the library.”
The report also stated that “a number of times people talked about a community branch [in the Fifth Ward] just acknowledging that different cultural groups interact differently. The rules, policies and focus on quiet in the other branches are not representative of all cultures, nor does it convey a sense of inclusivity.” The report recommended that the Library Board act quickly to establish a Fifth Ward Branch.
The Robert Crown Branch could be open in the fall of 2019. Ms. Jones said, “Community members expressed hope that leaders will begin actively including diverse voices that will shape the future layout, programs and services there.”
The need for professional development and more diverse materials in the Library’s collections segues from the recommendation to enhance cultural competence. The financial resources for this evoked some discussion from the trustees, who had just a few minutes before approved a $10 million budget for 2019.
Trustee Rachel Hayman said DJA had produced a “tremendous report. I hope that in time we can meet a lot of these recommendations, but I’m still concerned about the budget. The five [recommendations] that you highlighted tonight are going to require resources. I think it’s important to establish a branch in the Fifth Ward, but I don’t know if we can make in in the [recommended] one-year time frame.”
Ms. Hayman also said she was concerned whether the $35,000 allocated to EDI would be sufficient in light of the recommendations. Ms. Danczak Lyons said there are two other line items, totaling about $48,000, for professional development.
Patricia Efiom, the City’s Equity and Empowerment Manager, said in the fall all City employees – including Library staff – would receive training in cultural competence. This training would be at City, not Library, expense.
“We can look at ways for us to use our resources together, with the City of Evanston and Cradle to Career looking at it, too. We can capitalize on our united strength.
The Board of Trustees may take up further discussion of the report at a future meeting.
At the Sept. 26 meeting of the Evanston Public Library Board, we shared recommendations and views from an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) study of the Library undertaken from January 2018 through September 2018. Consultant DeEtta Jones, principal of DeEtta Jones and Associates, discussed her methodology and summarized the feedback she received during conversations with more than 100 community members and leaders. We undertook this study in response to community concerns regarding EDI at the Library.
We are absolutely and continuously committed to meeting the diverse expectations and needs of Evanston residents. Over the next 30 days, our residents are invited to read the report and share their thoughts, comments and suggestions either online or via a paper comment form available at all EPL locations. Only through working together, engaging in an honest and respectful dialogue, listening to all residents and finding meaningful ways to provide library service can we establish trust with our residents who have most deeply felt the burdens of racism and oppression. I look forward to hearing from both new voices in the community and our patrons. Building upon our strengths, celebrating what is working and thinking about new ways to serve the unserved will result in refinement of our programs and services.
EPL is committed to providing equitable access to information, library services and programs. Viewing the work of the EPL through an equity lens will be continual. This important work has no end date. Specifically regarding a study recommendation, I look forward to working with our residents, partner institutions and the City of Evanston to find new ways to engage with our African American and LatinX residents.
Systemic and meaningful change will take time. A regular cycle of evaluation, reflection upon results and refinement will not end. Honest discussion about resources and the need to reallocate efforts to meet the needs of the unserved will result in changes to our services – changes in content, targeted audience and expectations for results.
The Evanston Public Library is an active institution that doesn’t wait for patrons to come to the library to ask a question or check out a book. We are constantly exploring the frontiers of what equitable access to resources means to Evanstonians so everyone has the opportunity to improve themselves through the various forms of literacy. Along with welcoming everyone within the walls of our libraries, we bring our free-to-participate programs, services and books to locations throughout the community.
I invite you to join me in our work so that we can serve the needs of you, your family and all of your neighbors. The Evanston Public Library, like all public libraries, offers countless opportunities for learning, growth and civic engagement. Let’s work together for a better future built upon trust, honesty, respect and the desire to provide opportunities for all. Together, we are the library.
By Karen Danczak Lyons, Director of the Evanston Public Library