Indianapolis Library Makes Changes After Racism Allegations

By AMELIA PAK-HARVEY

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indianapolis Public Library is starting a new year with a lot of flow.

Employee protests last year over alleged systemic racism and discrimination sparked the departure of former CEO Jackie Nytes, but it also instituted a domino effect of changes within the public agency. An interim leader held town hall meetings to gather staff feedback, and the library board commissioned a climate and culture survey of its approximately 570 staff.

And since the pushback, the agency in November filled its position as head of diversity, equity and inclusion that had been vacant since last June.

It’s a lot of change spurred mainly by a board meeting in May that ended up sparking an uproar — indicative, perhaps, of the pent-up frustration some library workers have long had over discrimination and unequal treatment.

Still, not all employees are happy — particularly over a $100,000 contract awarded to law firm Ice Miller to conduct the climate assessment.

“We’re all saying it’s kind of like a favor to a local law firm and all, with deep political connections,” said Michael Torres, leader of the library workers’ union which called for change.

Meanwhile, the library faces vacancies in its senior ranks: the former director of human resources left in 2021 following a furlough that began last August. The chief financial officer resigned last November.

But library officials hope the changes will not only address lingering concerns, but also move the library to a better place overall.

“I’ve certainly thought a lot about the seriousness of everything that’s happened over the past year, and there’s a lot that’s going to come into that,” said Keesha Hughes, the most recent official. diversity, equity and inclusion. his position. “But I also recognize that the evolution of systemic issues cannot be the responsibility of one person. Everyone will have to do this work.

The uproar began last May, when board chairman Judge Jose Salinas muted a former library worker and a black woman who later told IndyStar she wanted to talk about how his years of microaggressions and other experiences at the library would affect underserved communities.

The incident sparked outrage and prompted other workers to point to past experiences of discrimination, some who argued that black employees had been devalued at the library for decades.

Some employees demanded the resignation of Nytes and Salinas. While Nytes stepped down in August, Salinas remained chairman of the board – a position he was re-elected to last November.

Now the library board hopes a climate assessment survey will help guide its selection of a new CEO.

The survey had a response rate of around 80%, with 448 responses out of 568 people, according to library figures in early January.

“I feel good about it,” said board member Hope Tribble, chair of the diversity, policy and human resources committee that oversaw the evaluation process. “I think that’s actually a good sign about this process…the idea of ​​people feeling comfortable enough to engage and give their opinion, I think that’s a good thing.”

Still, some current and former employees, as well as two board members, have expressed opposition to hiring Ice Miller, a law firm that does frequent business with the city and has politically connected members. , rather than businesses run by people of color.

Board member Khaula Murtadha, who led the initial work on a climate assessment, earlier offered to lead a study by library staff. However, the board noted a conflict of interest with the involvement of a board member.

Ice Miller was the most expensive of the five options selected through the RFP process. Other offers ranged from $12,936 to $27,000.

“I don’t see anything that demonstrates a track record of proven practices with climate improvement processes,” Murtadha said at the December board meeting. “I see discussions about diversity, equity, inclusion…that’s not all that a climate improvement process entails.”

Board members, however, noted that Ice Miller seemed the best fit for the process. The library also said the Ice Miller project is led by Myra Selby, noting that she is a partner in the firm who is black.

“People talk about a complete package, and this was a complete package,” Tribble told IndyStar, noting the matrix used to compare each vendor. “It not only allowed us to look at the climate, but also to review HR policies and provide additional guidance on CEO search.”

The company has also offered complementary services that will help the library move forward with the search for CEOs, she said.

The workers, however, argue that the library doesn’t need a study to reveal the climate — they already know about the issues of racism and discrimination, Torres said.

“One of the biggest issues that I think isn’t really addressed is accountability,” he said. “Like I said, we know what’s going on. We know who is responsible for some of these things. What happens to them? Nothing happens to them. »

Another challenge for the library: to diversify its staff.

The library’s workforce is about 70% white, according to data presented to the Indianapolis City Council during last year’s annual budget process. Like other city departments, white employees also make up the majority of management at 72%. Black employees make up 23% of management while Hispanic or Latino employees make up 3%.

The library’s 2021-2023 strategic plan also calls for devoting 50% of its annual recruitment budget to various recruitment efforts. That equates to $20,000 for 2022. In 2021, the library spent 65% of that budget on diverse recruitment, according to the library.

Another goal is to spend 27% of its annual vendor spend on city-certified businesses owned by people of color, people with disabilities or women. The library says it also met that goal in 2021, spending about $14 million of the required $3.8 million.

The library also hopes to dedicate 30% of its annual collection budget to African American materials, 10% to Latinx materials, and 5% to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer materials.

These goals should be achieved by 2023, according to a library spokesperson. In November, the budget was 16.9% dedicated to African American material, 3% to Latinx material, and 4.4% to LGBTQ material.

Meanwhile, Tribble sees vacancies in human resources and CFO positions as an opportunity. It’s safe to say that “change is on the way,” she says.

“The most constructive perspective is to think about how to ensure that when we fill these positions, we are looking for people whose values ​​and perspectives align with the strategic plan,” she said.

The new head of diversity, equity and inclusion, Hughes, says she has focused on building relationships with employees and understanding their needs.

Hughes wants employees to know that she is 100% accessible and will retain their trust.

“My door is always open for anyone who wants to chat, or I’m also always available by phone,” she said. “And part of what I intend to do is be visible in branches as much as possible.”

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Source: The Indianapolis Star