After the Thin Blue Line experience, Evanston Public Library officials will need more OK staff for signage of exhibits
Take a stroll on the second floor of the Evanston Main Public Library and you’ll likely come across small exhibits, usually books artfully arranged around a table, drawing attention to a topic.
Such an exhibit was put on earlier this month, but not for reasons library officials would have preferred.
A display of documents on police reform was mounted on the second floor on October 1 with a sign using the image of a “Thin Blue Line” flag as the background for the words “Policing in America,” said the police officer. Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons, providing a timeline of events for the library administrators at their meeting on October 20.
“This posting was ahead of the upcoming ‘Police Reform: Progress and Pitfalls’, but the panel did not provide that context,” Danczak Lyons wrote.
As of last week, officials were still grappling with some of the sign’s fallout, prompting them to issue a public apology on October 7 and develop new procedures governing postings in the future.
Critical at the level of community members
Several speakers at the October 20 meeting criticized the authorities’ handling of the incident.
Deshawn Newman, teacher and library patron, contrasted the action with the library’s support for Black Lives Matter on its website and on social media.
“The building is not a safe space due to the systemic behaviors of the EPL library staff, and a glaring example is the book exhibit which enabled the blue line flag to be displayed in a public place,” Newman maintained.
The flag is “a symbol of white supremacy and was prominent during the Uprising on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021,” she said.
The flag, which at one time was seen as an image in support of the difficult task of the police, has been associated in recent years with white and far-right nationalist groups.
Another speaker, Eric Tanyavutti, an Evanston resident and avid library user, told library officials their apologies did not go far enough.
“I still find that there is one key aspect missing, which is responsibility and accountability,” he said.
“For example, what exactly is the process by which a posting like this is approved? Who approves the books that go on a given exhibition? ” He asked.
He admitted that he and other library users may not really know the inner workings that led to the library’s decision.
“But I can assure you that we feel its values and its inherent missions every day through every decision that is approved, every exhibition that is run and every book that is put in this collection,” he said. “And for now, to this day, I can say about it that whoever runs the EPL has certainly let down his most vulnerable residents, and I ask them to be held accountable.”
The staff expressed their regret at the meeting and explained in detail what led to the incident and the steps they are taking to prevent such occurrences in the future.
Danczak Lyons gave this timeline:
- On October 1, when the exhibit, with the image of a thin blue line flag in the background of the display, was set up, there was no context to link it to the next ” Police reform: progress and pitfalls ”.
- Two days later, on October 3, another staff member told the person responsible for the linked event that the image was offensive, and the staff member who created the sign was told that it had to be modified, she reported.
- By Monday morning October 4, a new sign had been installed, Danczak Lyons wrote, with a black and white American flag in the background.
- A complaint received in a phone call late on October 6 was the first notice officials received regarding the original sign, she said.
“At this point, the department leadership became aware of the problem and learned that the sign had been altered and received a description of the original sign,” Danczak Lyons reported in his timeline. “This Wednesday evening, the Library’s collection advisory committee discussed the Thin Blue Line flag image and why it is offensive.
- At midday on Thursday, October 7, the library’s equity, diversity and initiative committee and management discussed the incident and drafted a public apology, she said. The statement issued the same day read:
The Evanston Public Library (EPL) apologizes to the entire Evanston community for our use of racist images in an exhibit designed to promote our upcoming program, “Police Reform: Progress and Pitfalls, A Mini-Course donated by the organization NU Emeriti ”in November 2. We recognize the harm this image has caused in our community, especially for those who identify as Black, Indigenous or POC. The library is committed to identifying, understanding and rectifying our past and current injustices, as well as to developing anti-racist policies and procedures that promote fairness. We hereby commit to developing a system for a more sensitive review of proposed signage, programs, collections, policies and procedures for potentially offensive images prior to their inclusion in postings.
Adding more details at the October 20 meeting, Danczak Lyons told library administrators, “One of our practices is to support programs and discussions by creating book displays, and we have done advertising in our newsletter, on our website and in upcoming programming. produced through our partnership with Northwestern University around police reform by creating the second floor book exhibit. “
Procedures to be put in place
Since the incident, she said, staff have put in place “more ways to create and review signage, to make sure we don’t make this mistake again.”
“It shouldn’t have happened,” she said. “This is a mistake and the supervisors are putting procedures in place and making sure that there is not a single member of staff who selects the images”, ensuring that “we are sensitive and aware and do not do this again. error”.
Heather Norborg, the library’s adult learning and literacy manager, her voice broken at times, offered a personal apology to community and board members, regretting that the incident had hampered progress that the library was trying to do to become a more reliable space.
“We have a process to determine the subject of the displays and the materials that are displayed in those displays. But we didn’t previously have a process to create the signage to go with it, ”she said,“ and we’re working to rectify that. “
Rachel Hayman, vice-chair of the library board, was one of the few trustees to respond to the staff report.
She said her concern was with the use of the term “racist image” in the library’s apology and wondered if an additional explanation would have offered “a good time to learn.”
“Because, yes, the Thin Blue Line flag is definitely a racist image,” she said. “But there are people who would say it’s not, you know, even in Evanston.
“Even in Evanston,” she repeated.
“I am not defending him in any way,” she stressed. “I’m just saying I wish we were more explicit. And I actually think it’s also an opportunity for future programming on imagery in all kinds of ways.
“I want to congratulate you,” she said, addressing her comments to the staff. “I think you acted very quickly.”
As for the recommendations, she said, “Of course we should have a policy; of course, something shouldn’t be presented to the public without more eyes looking at it, because people make terrible mistakes, and this is one of them. But I want to commend the staff for the actions that… we are committed to taking at this point. “