Evanston Public Library Must Invest in Equity Audit


A suburban librarian and colleague of Lesley Williams used sarcasm to illustrate exactly the issue with the Evanston Public Library: Look! EPL can make a booklist! That must mean 'equity is in their DNA.'

He was referring to a quote from Michael Tannen, President of the Board of Trustees at the Evanston Public Library. Mr. Tannen told the Evanston RoundTable that equity was “in the DNA” of EPL and libraries in general. Mr. Tannen, sounding a bit like 45, in my personal opinion, continued the the RoundTable saying, We are interested in equity. We do equity. It’s important to us.

There are many fallacies in that statement which are elaborated on in the comments of a June 4 Facebook post that I tagged the Evanston Public Library in. (Also, the only way we know what's in someone's DNA is by running tests, which in this case would be an equity audit.)

In that same Facebook post, I was thanking Madison Public Library for their Racial Equity Resources page. This page was a result of the City of Madison's 2014 deliberate, focused and organized effort called the Racial Equity and Social Justice Initiative.

Four days after tagging EPL in that Facebook post, arguably not focused or organized like Madison, they added a page to their website called Equity and the Evanston Public Library Collections: Contemporary Fiction. On this page, they write that Evanston Public Library is no different but coming up with an accurate assessment can be tricky. 

Well, an idea for one would be to hire outside professionals to do a equity audit. I went through your budget, endowments and savings and there is definitely money to invest in this to check out your so-called DNA.

From our quick evaluation, the multiple copies of trendy, white, bestselling books show otherwise in terms of money for books. These books are in high demand for several months but then merely clog the shelves. Pandering to the short-lived interest (from folks who are impatient to read the latest hit) in these bestsellers from typically white middle class readers is the antithesis of equitable.

These photos are a powerful response to the EPL "equity book list" and the claim that they just can't afford to buy more copies of diverse books.

How many copies of the books on the list do you have? Let's quantify the equity in your DNA.

This multiple bestseller collection approach goes to the heart of what a public library is supposed to be. Is the goal to build a multicultural, vibrant collection that reflects the diversity of the community and society, or to cater to the convenience of white middle class "power users" impatient for the shiny, middlebrow bestsellers?

Girl on the Train is a particularly egregious example. We counted 16 copies of this suspense novel yesterday. According to the catalog there are 188 more copies in the consortium, plus over 55 audiobook copies and 55 large print copies.


Do any of the books on the "equity book list" have that many copies? If not, is that equitable and how was that decision made?

Which is the greater community priority: guaranteeing that no one should have to wait to read Girl on the Train, or guaranteeing that EPL will always have a well stocked collection of diverse literature reflecting non-European American experiences?

This is one of the issues an equity audit could examine. How many copies of the books on that "equity" list did EPL buy as opposed to multiple copies of books by Anne Tyler, Curtis Sittenfeld, Anna Quindlen, Daniel Silva, etc.?

As I said in my May 31 letter to the Evanston RoundTable (prior to reading the FOIA e-mails):

The Board’s accusations of “attack” and “demoralization” are misconstrued attempts that deflect responsibility for addressing inequity. This is bigger than Board President Tannen and bigger than Lesley Williams.

My request is that the library address the content of both the racial equity audit proposal and the letter from Tiffany Rice of the Dajae Coleman Foundation. Constituents are asking to be heard and instead of responding to them they’re playing the defensive. The success of mobile Wi-Fi, children’s programs, etc. is fantastic. What about equity?

And please, stop saying that concerned residents asking for accountability and equity audits is hurting the library. We love the library and that’s why we expect better.

Coverage from various news outlets >

Jes Scheinpflug