Library Responds to Controversy Over Internal Disciplinary Matter

EVANSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY BOARD OF TRUSTEES’ STATEMENT OF SUPPORT FOR ITS DIRECTOR AND STAFF

On April 19, 2017, the Evanston Public Library Board of Trustees renewed the annual employment contract of our Director, Karen Danczak Lyons. The hiring and evaluation of our director are powers granted to us under state law.  We take these responsibilities very seriously. Collectively, our Board has lived in Evanston for more than 200 years.  We are volunteers, having been appointed by the Mayor and approved by the City Council.

On April 20, 2017, a crowd of demonstrators gathered at the Civic Center and protested potential disciplinary action to be taken by EPL against Lesley Williams.  The Evanston Roundtable has reported that the protesters did not know why Ms. Williams was being disciplined, and this is not surprising.  Typically, personnel matters are confidential.   The unsubstantiated social media attacks on EPL undermine our strategic plan; demoralize our wonderful and hard-working staff; and threaten to burn the bridges EPL has sought to build throughout our city.

Further, these recent attacks convey the innuendo that no other EPL employee promotes social harmony, equity, and racial justice. That is flatly wrong and it is offensive.   Someone famous once said it takes a village to raise a child. Likewise, it takes more than one librarian, however smart, to implement a strategic plan, create awesome and occasionally controversial programs, and to bring library services outside our walls.  It takes an entire library staff to do these things—from concierges to circulation to adult services and to every other department in our library.  Our job as Board Trustees is easy because EPL’s entire staff from top to bottom is dedicated, skilled, and  innovative.

The Board does not meddle in the Director’s day- to-day management, oversight or discipline of EPL personnel. These duties are within the province of the Director under state law.  Nonetheless, the Board has elemental expectations of all EPL staff:

  • EPL employees from top to bottom are expected to work together collaboratively and collegially and to treat each other with dignity and respect.  These expectations have been codified in the City’s commitment to a healthy work environment and in the City’s personnel manual.  That manual clearly sets forth norms of performance and behavior and outlines a process for discipline.
  • Every single EPL employee must treat every library patron with dignity and respect, regardless of the patron’s race, gender, or socio-economic status. EPL hosts a dizzying array of programs and presentations.  Everyone who attends EPL’s programs should feel welcome and should feel free to voice their opinions.  No patron should be subjected to suspension, police involvement  or to the specter of arrest for trespass for voicing their opinions at EPL events, especially if that opinion comes from a unique and thought-provoking perspective.

The Board and its Director do recognize that there is a paucity of degreed librarians of color at EPL. This problem is not restricted to EPL; the entire public library field is grappling with it.  The latest available statistics from the ALA show that only 5% of all credentialed librarians are African American; only 3% are Hispanic.  Indeed, the Library of Congress, founded in 1789, appointed its first African American director just last year. EPL is working diligently to address this diversity issue.

During the five years Karen has been at EPL’s helm, by any subjective or objective criterion, EPL has experienced a renaissance.  We have updated our strategic plan and have adopted the American Library Association’s statement on Equity of Access.  All three of our branches are humming with activity.  EPL’s community outreach efforts are bearing fruit.  Our early child literacy initiatives, including ABC Boosters, have yielded objective gains.  We have dramatically expanded our free distribution of WiFi hotspots.  We have been told that military veterans think that EPL is the most welcoming public library on the North Shore.  We now have a full-time social worker at EPL who has helped patrons in need of mental health or social services. More than 2,000 people attended our second annual Storytelling Festival.  Because of our partnership with the Center for Economic Progress, hundreds of income eligible Evanstonians have received an average refund of $1,400.00.  EPL is currently renovating the Main branch and planning the funding and construction of a state of the art library at Robert Crown.

The Board reaffirms its confidence in our Director. We encourage all EPL patrons to attend our monthly meetings, review our prior board packets, and to read the monthly reports of our Director.  All of these resources are online at www.epl.org and contain a treasure trove of information about our strategic plan and about the phenomenal work of all of our employees.

Socorro Clark, Trustee

Tori Foreman, Trustee

Adam Goodman, Trustee

Shawn Iles, Co-Treasurer

Margaret Lurie, Vice-President

Vaishali Patel, Secretary

Benjamin Schapiro, Co-Treasurer

Sandra Smith, Trustee

Michael Murphy Tannen, President


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