An Anti-racism Pledge from the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library
As a deadly pandemic swirls around the globe and across the United States, everyone at the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library has spent countless hours designing new systems to safely reopen our building. When our doors finally open to the people of Eau Claire, we’ll have a new way of doing things. But more changes are coming.
Even as we put new systems into practice, many of our old systems must be reexamined, fixed, or completely dismantled. Allow us to explain.
The profound events of the past few weeks—sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and erupting into protests across the country—have yet again exposed the systemic racism built into the very architecture of our civic and private lives.
Systems of oppression create a different kind of pandemic, and libraries are not immune.
According to a study published in 20171, Wisconsin—embarrassingly—ranks first in inequality between black and white people. Black people represent 6.2% of the state’s population, but are 11.5 times more likely to be incarcerated than whites. Compared to Wisconsin’s white population, its black residents see significantly higher unemployment rates. Meanwhile, the median household income for white people in Wisconsin far outpaces that of their black neighbors.
These gaps in the shape of our citizenry do not happen by accident. As one of Eau Claire’s leading civic institutions, the library sees and feels these disparities every day. Our attempts to address them often fall short.
Libraries in this country are overwhelmingly staffed by white librarians—85.9% of all accredited librarians in the U.S. are white2—and that’s certainly the case here in Eau Claire. We recognize how our own privilege, when combined with institutional policies and practices, makes it easy to ignore or misunderstand systemic racism in our own communities and how that disconnect impacts our black and brown customers. Like so many other branches of government, we must do better.
In regard to recent national events, allow us to be crystal clear. We are outraged, saddened, and deeply frustrated by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the ongoing, unjust killing of countless people of color. This is an American problem, and as an American municipal institution, it’s our fundamental duty to stand against these injustices.
What Can We Do?
As a public entity, we recognize that it’s not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist. We must be active and focused in this fight. We must target weaknesses in our core systems and services in an aggressive attempt to undo racist structures and unlearn racist routines.
But what does that mean? For the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library it means a renewed examination of our policies, collections, facilities, programming, and training.
In reviewing our policies, we will explore library-wide anti-racist strategies. We will reassess what we once considered a success and look for cracks in the facade. We will revisit our failures and learn from them.
We will make mistakes, but we will not hide from our shortcomings. We will hold ourselves accountable.
In our collections—our books, multimedia, and resources—we will redouble our efforts to include authors of color and of other marginalized communities. We pledge to provide the tools and information our customers need to combat racism in their own lives and to help them understand different perspectives. We will ensure our black and brown customers hear their own voices and see their own faces in the materials upon our shelves.
Just as important, people of color and all populations must feel welcome and free to be themselves within our walls. A redesign of our building is already underway. As we reconsider our physical space, we’ll put special emphasis on equity and accessibility. We will build a library where everyone is valued.
In our events and programming, in person and online, we will not avoid hard questions. We will embrace the discomfort and guilt one feels when confronting racism. We will work collaboratively with local organizations to provide opportunities for anti-racist discussion and education. We are committed to preserving the library’s platform as a tool for community engagement and actionable change.
For our staff, we will provide the training needed to foster an inclusive environment, and we pledge to focus on voices of color as we continue to learn.
Within these strategies we must recognize how one system of oppression rarely works in isolation. Hate yearns to absorb more hate. And so we must also acknowledge and fight against sexism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, and all other forms of inequality.
As a library, we recognize we must do more than provide you with anti-racist resources. As a library, we must pledge to be anti-racist. This is the standard to which we ask you hold us accountable.
We believe that black lives matter. We believe in the power of free and accessible information. We believe in our community, and we believe that we are stronger together.
This pledge was posted on behalf of library staff by former Director Pamela Westby and is approved by the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library Board of Trustees.