Racial Equity Task Force Begins Its Work

Based on a recommendation in the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion report prepared last fall by DeEtta Jones and Associates, the Evanston Public Library has created a Racial Equity Task Force. The task force is designed to represent the voices of people of color in the community as the Library continues to work toward becoming an equitable organization. The Task Force has met regularly since August and meets twice a month on Tuesdays from 6:30 to 8:30 pm.

The Racial Equity Task Force is made up of eight community members, all people of color. Some are educators who deal daily with the issues of equity and inclusion in the schools where they teach. Four Library staff members and two members of the Library Board of Trustees also serve on the task force.

The task force has begun by reviewing the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion assessment, and identifying barriers that exist across the community. A primary intention is to reach under-served residents, especially in the 5th, 8th, and 9th wards. On the Library’s part, the goal is to own its portion of the institutional racism that exists in Evanston, which was acknowledged by this summer’s resolution adopted unanimously by the Evanston City Council to affirm the City’s commitment to end structural racism and achieve racial equity.

“We are listening to what the task force is telling us about how people of color perceive the library and its relevance to their day-to-day lives. Our growing understanding is that this community wants us to better understand their needs and tailor our efforts to meet them where they are. We are using their equity lens to help identify and break down the barriers that exist to provide greater access to those who need the most,” says Assistant Library Director Teri Campbell. “We are excited by their willingness to brainstorm thoughts and ideas about how to become a more inclusive organization.”

EPL intends to use the work of the task force to create a more welcoming atmosphere in the Library for those who may be uncomfortable within it, or to become more enticing for those who may not yet use Library services. The task force will also help determine how the Library can best present itself while working outside library walls in the broader community. The overall goal is to expand the library’s reach in a way that is most sensitive to the issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion.

The member of the Racial Equity Task Force are:

Community Members

Jenna Arceneaux: Ward 5 resident

Juan Campoverde: Ward 9 resident

Nicholas Davis: Ward 2 resident

Tracy Fulce: Ward 2 resident

Joshua Hall: Ward 9 resident

Linnea Latimer: Ward 5 resident

Lisa Montgomery: Ward 3 resident

Amanda Richardson: Ward 4 resident

Board members:

Rachel Hayman: Ward 3 resident

Terry Soto: Ward 9 resident

Library Staff: 

Carmen Francellno: Ward 9 resident

Jose Maldonado

Lorena Neal: Ward 7 resident

Teri Campbell

Library Welcomes New Social Worker: Christina Mendez, LCSW

New Library Social Worker
Photo credit: Lynn Trautmann, LTPhoto

Public libraries are community gathering spaces and resource centers, open freely to all. At Evanston Public Library that open welcome is made wider by the presence and skills of a full-time social worker. The Evanston Public Library welcomes Christina Mendez, a licensed clinical social worker, to the library through a partnership with Presence Health. Christina, who started at EPL in September 2018, will provide referrals to community resources, government benefits application assistance, emotional support, and consultation and assessment services to the public, as well as offer training to library staff members. In addition, four social work interns from a variety of Chicago social work schools have placement at EPL.

Says Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons, “For people experiencing homelessness, joblessness, loneliness, or mental illness, the library can be a sanctuary.  For the elderly, new mothers, new immigrants, or teens, it can be a vital connection point. A social worker extends our ability to provide necessary information and resources for everyone.”

Library Social Work: A Growing Phenomenon

Cindy Castro, Manager at Presence Behavioral Health, says that having social work services available at the library, a location where people already gather and feel comfortable, “helps remove the stigma of getting help.”

Social work in libraries is a growing phenomenon as economic disparity grows and disadvantaged individuals increasingly find refuge in the welcoming environment of the public library. The first mental health library worker was in San Francisco. Others now are employed in Baltimore, Denver, Brooklyn, San Jose, and Oak Park. Mendez replaces EPL’s first social worker Justine Janis who moved on in September to start the first social work program at Chicago Public Library.

Says Mendez of her new position: “This is a great environment for social work, Here I feel I can help the community in an innovative way. I am busy every day in this public space where people can talk openly to me about concerns and share snippets of their lives. I hope to continue to foster an environment of openness and availability to everyone who comes here,” says Mendez.

Lyons spearheaded the effort for social worker support in the library in 2013 with limited hours for student social work interns, arranged through Presence Behavioral Health, leading to a full-time position which is funded through the Northwestern University Good Neighbor grant fund as administered by Mayor Hagerty and arranged through a contract with Presence Behavioral Health.

The library sees patrons dealing with a variety of difficult issues, including those who have fallen into poverty. Referrals for tenants’ issues, immigration services, health and wellness matters, hunger, and resources to combat homelessness are all part of the variety of resources a social worker can help provide.  Since February 2017, there have been more than 1000 encounters with Library patrons covering a variety of services including de-escalation, support, case management, referrals, filling out applications, housing support and much more.

Adds Lyons, “We continue to seek new ways to provide equitable access to resources. Evanston patrons come from such a large range of different backgrounds and circumstances. A social worker fits in beautifully among the books, the programs, the technology, and the librarians to provide a new and impactful layer of service.”

Christina Mendez can be reached by phone at 847-448-8659 or by email at cmendez@cityofevanston.org.  Appointments are strongly recommended.  She is at the Main Library on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 am to 6 pm, Wednesdays from 11 am to 7 pm, and Fridays from 10 am to 6 pm. She can be found at the Chicago Avenue/Main Street (CAMS) branch on Mondays from 2 to 8 pm.


October 22, 2013

Library-Reads-Logo-ColorAs you know from this amazing blog and our website, public library staff are great at recommending new and interesting books. Here’s another cool, collaborative source for recommended reading from our friends at libraries across the country. Library Reads is a monthly list of “The top ten books published this month that librarians across the country love.”

Heather N.

The Library as Film Star

August 9, 2013

marianNPR’s All Things Considered continues its series on public libraries in this story by Bob Mondello highlighting the library “on stage, on screen, and in song.” He refers to stereotypes such as Marian in The Music Man, George Bailey’s wife Mary in It’s A Wonderful Life, and Katharine Hepburn in Desk Set as well as more sophisticated images (Lucien’s Library in Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, the monastery library in The Name of the Rose and the amazing library at Hogwarts. Songs are also mentioned, including Jimmy Buffett’s “Love in the Library”, and Tori Amos’s album Tales of a Librarian with tracks arranged in the Dewey Decimal System. Check out some of these films from the EPL Library collection and enjoy the entire article here.