Why anti-racism work is library work

By David J. Seleb, Executive Director

Note: A version of this post first appeared in Wednesday Journal and OakPark.com on May 11, 2021. Read the piece on OakPark.com »

We are on an anti-racism journey. This includes working with a local consultant and implementing a new anti-racism strategic plan. 

Why are we doing this? Because as your public library, we value all people. We value providing a welcoming space for everyone.

We know you value this too. Because as we continue to ask “What kind of community do you want to live in?” you continue to tell us: A community that’s kind. Accepting. Inclusive. One where anti-racism practices are making a difference in people’s lives.

Learning ‘to use a different lens’

Here’s how our public library friends in the nearby western suburb of Downers Grove put it: “By openly condemning hate and violence, we demonstrate we are a safe place for people of color and people who look or think or act differently. By standing up for all people, we push our doors open a little wider to welcome all.” 

“Some folks just need a bestseller and a tax form,” says Downers Grove Library Director Julie Milavec. “Some need help using a computer. Others want a book for their child with a main character that looks like them. None of those needs are more important than the others. All take a different approach to do well.” 

Like Downers Grove, we also are working with a consultant on anti-racism practices “to learn to use a different lens, a different way of seeing, to help us find where we are falling short,” as Milavec says. 

Assembling the team to create the plan

In June 2020, with the support of Reesheda Graham Washington and RGW Consulting, we assembled a cross-section of stakeholders — administrators, staff, patrons, board members, and young adults. 

This team developed a draft anti-racism strategic plan. In January, all library staff members were asked to share feedback on it.

“We created a plan because the library is serious about being an anti-racist organization for the long term,” said Tatiana Swancy, our library’s restorative practices coordinator and a member of the team that developed the plan. “As important as it is to have a vision, it is just as important to have a plan with concrete steps on how we’re going to reach our vision, and how the library can be held accountable for it.”

On March 23, a final version went to the Board of Library Trustees, who unanimously approved it.

Action & accountability

Library Trustee Colleen Burns said she voted yes “because in order to live up to our mission to be a welcoming space for all, we must promote and advance anti-racism practices.”

As we continue to turn outward, we know we have work to do, both individually and the partners we collaborate with to serve all of Oak Park.

As Oak Park Township Manager Gavin Morgan says: “Anti-racism work benefits us all because the more we connect and learn from each other, including the different experiences, perspectives, and understandings we offer, the better off we are.” 

Racism is real. We need to work together to be anti-racist. Join us.

Past anti-racism One Views in Wednesday Journal & OakPark.com