Eyes on the Board: Workers win new children’s librarians despite obstinate Board

About the “Eyes on Board” series

Since the Liberation Center joined forces with workers, AFSCME Local 3395, and various community members to successfully kick out racist former CEO Jackie Nytes, we have remained involved in the struggle to make the library truly public. This monthly column provides updates on the public library board’s actions from an objective but partisan standpoint. To all workers and patrons who seek to end the abuse and win a democratic public library that serves us all, this column is for you! Check out the first entry in the series.


Local government and public institutions in Indianapolis are a microcosm of the larger system as a whole, with all of its injustices and corruption. At the same time, local community action is a microcosm of the resistance that injustice and corruption generates. This August, library workers won important gains despite the ongoing corruption of the IndyPL Board of Trustees.

Most significantly, library workers yielded pressure from below to force illegitimate CEO Greg Hill to hire additional children’s librarians, easing some pressure on overworked staff throughout the library system. This wouldn’t have happened without the voices of our community continually demanding better!

While this is a win for workers and the community, note that it only eases some of the pressure on overworked staff. Instead of allocating more funds to the library to help completely eradicate these staffing issues, Mayor Joe Hogsett has only allotted 1% of the city budget to this necessary institution. He has deemed it more appropriate to serve up nearly 30% of the city budget, a sum of over $450 million, to policing. It would appear that Board President Hope Tribble also thinks Hogsett’s budget is poorly thought-out, but she seems to disagree with our analysis that too much money is going to policing while people’s needs continue to go unaddressed. Instead, Tribble has taken it upon herself to further supplement Hogsett’s increase in police funding, as she has continually used money from library funds to pay officers to intimidate the community at board meetings.

Limited library resources go to failed leadership; controversy at Hamilton East continues

Recently-returned John Helling has been granted a salary of $128,000, a generous amount considering his tendency to run when things get rough. His last leadership position at the Hamilton East Public Library ended without Helling ever taking a stand against the corrupt and reactionary forces on the HEPL Board. 

Hell, John Green did more for the HEPL system with his statement pushing back against the decision to move his book from the Young Adult section to the Adult section. Following his statement, public outcry resulted in the Board temporarily suspending the book review policy. What’s more, the solidarity between library workers and community members forced the removal of HEPL board president Laura Alerding. She has been replaced by Bill Kenley, an English teacher. 

Micah Beckwith, the conservative pastor whose surprise addition to the HEPL Board last year was instrumental in pushing the suspended policy, has also seemingly stepped out of the spotlight. He was a vociferous advocate for “protecting children” during the leadup to the policy’s adoption, but now blames “liberal leadership” for the decision to move Green’s book to the Adult section. No surprise to find that he has announced a longshot bid for the lieutenant governor position. The last thing Beckwith wants to do at this point is defend his performative book ban against a popular YA author. 

With clowns like Beckwith on the HEPL Board, it would have been simple for Helling to push back. Instead, he capitulated, deferred, and gave bland PR statements to reporters before cutting and running back to Indianapolis. We deserve visionary leaders, not those who run when the going gets tough.

American Library Association president Emily Drabinski – who signed the petition demanding IndyPL hire Nichelle Hayes as CEO – recognizes the need for people power to fight off harmful policies like book bans or anti-democratic board presidents. Quote, “We [must] organize and mobilize together on behalf of our libraries, our patrons, our communities, and, importantly, ourselves.”

Helling, for all his talk of listening to library workers, is clearly either unable or uninterested in mobilizing anyone on behalf of our libraries. You might say that the only person he mobilizes is himself, from one library system to the next.

Children’s librarians hired thanks to the work of library workers and pro-worker Board members

We now have a commitment from CEO Greg Hill to hire more children’s librarians, thanks to the advocacy of members of the Library board, library union, and other staff who have stepped up and spoken out. While certain members of the Board continue to dismiss and demean library workers and patrons, it is clear that our voices made a difference on this matter.

This level of engagement at all levels of IndyPL – which Tribble and her faction wish would just go away – is important for the institution to function in a more democratic way. Staff should feel empowered to approach the CEO with their ideas about how to best be supported. The people’s choice for CEO, Nichelle Hayes, frequently made herself available to staff during her time as interim-CEO, and gave credit to staff by directly acknowledging and thanking them for their input. This is the posture of an organic leader who is from and works on behalf of the community. 

Unfortunately, the Indianapolis library system continues to suffer under the uninspiring and low energy leadership of Hill. Board members Tribble, Biederman, White, and Palacio showed their true colors earlier this year when they hired Hill behind closed doors, despite large protests led by community members, patrons, and library workers. 

Individuals and organizations around the city have since called for a vote of no confidence in the Board, which has flagrantly betrayed the interests of the workers on more than one occasion. Add your name to the petition here.

Dates to remember

The City County Council’s Public Safety and Criminal Justice committee will be meeting twice in September to hear from the Marion County Sheriff’s Department and the IMPD about their plans for Hogsett’s proposed 2024 budget. Join the Indy Liberation Center on 9/6 and 9/13 as we make our voices heard on this outrageous expenditure of public funds. Both meetings will be held at 5:30pm in the Public Assembly Room at 200 E Washington St.

The City County Council’s Municipal Corporations Committee will discuss the Indianapolis Public Library’s allotment on September 20 at 5:30pm in the Public Assembly Room as well. We demand more money allocated to support library workers.

This month’s Board of Trustees meeting will be Monday, August 28th at 6:30pm at the Warren library branch, and the September Board meeting will be Monday, September 25th at the same time at IndyPL’s College Ave library branch. Download the agendas ahead of time here.

Stay updated on struggles at IndyPL and around the city

“Eyes on the Board” is just one way the Indianapolis Liberation Center helps keep the working class of Indianapolis up to date on our struggle to survive and flourish. Check out the rest of our work by clicking on News and Analysis, or find us in person by checking out our Action Alerts and showing up to an upcoming event.