Racial Equity Task Force’s Video Plan Wins RAILS Grant

July 20, 2020

Evanston Public LibraryAbout a year ago, Evanston Public Library founded its first Racial Equity Task Force (RETF).  The RETF works to ensure the voice of the community is being heard with respect to how EPL fulfills its mission. Current RETF members represent a cross-section of the Evanston community and Library staff.  This committee includes eight (8) community members, four (4) staff members, and two (2) Library board members with members of the community representing Wards 2,4, 5 and 9. The RETF typically meets once a month and makes recommendations on integrating equitable content into EPL programs, identifies ways EPL can expand equity and inclusion within public libraries, and helps EPL serve its diverse communities and staff.

Starting a Task Force is one thing. Putting their suggestions into effect is entirely another. A task force may sound good on paper, but it is the responsibility of the Library to take their voices seriously. That is why we are pleased to announce that by taking the recommendation of the RETF to create a Racial Equity Outreach Video Series, Evanston Public Library is the proud recipient of the RAILS (Reaching Across Illinois Library System) My Library Is… Grant. This grant provides an opportunity for libraries to to tell powerful stories that increase their visibility and express their value to the community.

Through the Racial Equity Outreach Video Series, Evanston Public Library aims to increase its visibility amongst historically marginalized communities; raise awareness of all the resources that are available at the Library; and engage in deeper conversations with underrepresented voices in our community. One of EPL’s primary goals is to remove as many barriers as possible for equitable access to the Library’s materials, programs, and resources. The Racial Equity Outreach Video Series will highlight some of the ways that the Library is accessible to underserved populations, such as the availability of bilingual staff and materials.

“As the Evanston community becomes even more diverse, this work will continue to be a critical part of the Library’s DNA,” said Karen Danczak Lyons, Library Director of Evanston Public Library. “The Racial Equity Outreach Video Series will be an ongoing project, as a way to keep the community informed about the library’s work and progress.”

Stereotypes of libraries as dusty old buildings with no-nonsense librarians persist today, even as librarians and libraries have become much more diverse in their staff, who they serve, and how they serve them. Not only are these images inaccurate, they are actively harmful to underrepresented people in our community, who may feel that the Evanston Public Library is not for them and face unnecessary barriers to access.  The result is that people miss out on the resources and services they are entitled to, and the Library misses out on robust, well-rounded engagement with the entire community.

And, of course, this series is a direct offshoot of the Racial Equity Task Force’s suggestions. Part of the mission of the RETF involves increasing the Library’s visibility amongst historically underrepresented and marginalized communities. To better market our services to these communities, the RETF will produce three videos that demonstrate EPL’s services and resources to the Latinx community and reintroduce all underserved populations to the resources and services EPL provides today.

In bestowing the grant, RAILS Member Engagement Manager Dan Bostom had this to say to Evanston Public Library: “We look to you to be a model for the rest of the library system.”

We will endeavor to do our best.

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