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Library worker speaks before board: We need new leadership!

The following statement was read at the July 26 meeting of the IndyPL Board by Stephen Lane, a library worker, AFSCME Local 3395 member, and organizer with the Indianapolis Liberation Center.

Good evening to members of the Board,

My name is Stephen Lane, I am the special collections librarian in charge of collecting Indianapolis history as well as institutional history of IndyPL. I want to start off my comment by thanking my former colleague Bree Flannelly for exposing a major weakness in our library leadership in the ability to properly address the concerns of issues of racism and ableism Black library staff experience in the workplace. I witnessed how our library board president had Bree’s microphone muted effectively committing to an act of censorship of someone expressing concern of our public institution. Censorship is something we take seriously in our field. I think censoring a concerned member of the public who is concerned not only with the buildings but with the people working in those buildings who are being mistreated prompted me to take this stand here today to say enough! And Bree showed us that at all levels of this public institution there is a lot of silencing taking place to those who are suffering from workplace abuses. This climate study that is currently in the works would not be on the table without her act of bravery.

I want to thank former DEI director Jessica Moore for tasking me and Shanika Haywood to look into the institutional history of IndyPL through the lens of race. Through her vision to explore our very own institution’s history we see that systemic racism has been here a long time as librarians in the 1930s and 1940s worked hard to ban and limit Black children in certain branches they considered “White” branches. They were successful at doing so at Riverside Branch and it remains to be seen if that has happened in other branches. We see that those outdated levers of power still exist in the IndyPL system and our current CEO and others in leadership had no problem pulling those levers of power to do harm on Black teens by calling for more police in certain branches that subconsciously are still considered to be White branches. We see that a former staff who worked hard to engage inner city teens at Central and then who voiced concerns about experiencing racism in the work environment was effectively muted and not believed by leadership that what she was experiencing was even real. Well, that ends today!

I want to thank members of the board for tasking me with looking into the history of IndyPL’s first Black librarian Lillian Childress Hall while executive leadership seeks to honor those with money. We almost let this trailblazer in our library system fall to the sands of time. Almost forgotten to our institution which acts as a form of erasure and censorship. Lillian Childress Hall started at IndyPL in 1921 did so much for this institution and our city. She was nationally recognized in the field and in professional books and local newspapers. Yet, there is no wing named after her within this system. No she wasn’t monetarily rich, but was part of the rich history of Indiana Avenue and Crispus Attucks High School and IndyPL. She cannot be forgotten! I can only imagine what she went through when trying to solicit resources from leadership at that time to properly serve the patrons who came to her branch especially based on Margarette’s testimony last board meeting of how a branch in a Black neighborhood of Martindale-Brightwood is understaffed and under-resourced. There is a renewed search to replace the new branch manager that was just hired over said branch.

We see that the old and outmoded systems of power of subjugation are still intact within IndyPL’s work culture and concentrated in the hands of a few people. An outmoded system that make it so staff are afraid to speak up and voice their concerns about racism, sexism, and homophobia as well as other types of workplace abuse. We’ve heard accounts from staff that nothing happens when those issues are brought forward and I can attest to that. Such as the email we received from our CEO to only email the CEO directly regarding covid-19 related concerns (which these concerns directly affect our health and very lives during this deadly ongoing pandemic) because our board president didn’t want to hear from all of us. Meanwhile, those in leadership were on Zoom and working from home while many Black and brown staff and many White staff as well didn’t have such luxury. We provided crucial information services at risk to our very lives. And leadership made choices every step of the way to maintain the outmoded system of power and pull those levers of power that effectively silenced and ran out so many Black employees and silence the current ones that one board member accurately referred to as field employees. Well, time shifts and the culture and society we serve shifts along with it. In order for the Indianapolis public library to shift along with this changing tide and changing demographics within Indianapolis, we call for a change in leadership starting with our current CEO and board president. Let’s heal from all of this, let’s dismantle the old levers of power and send the ones willing to use them on to future endeavors. Let’s reshape how power is distributed throughout the system and create a system that truly empowers every worker to feel valued within the Indianapolis Public Library. This will only improve our institution’s standing with the city we serve and love.