Community members gathered on the steps of Central Library on Dec. 12 protesting in support of Nichelle M. Hayes as the next CEO of Indianapolis Public Library.
Organized by members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, more than 100 people — including current and former library workers and union members, community members and city officials — came together bundled up in coats, hats and gloves in support of hiring Hayes as the library’s next CEO.
The protest came three days after the library board’s original choice for CEO, Gabriel Morley, declined the offer following criticism from the community and even some board members for the decision to pass over Hayes, who was interim CEO.
Chants such as “We want Nichelle now,” “Why not Nichelle,” and “Hear your patrons’ voice, Hayes is the people’s choice,” rose from the crowd as various speakers took to the mic to voice their concerns for the future of the library.
“Nichelle’s power comes from the ranks of the workers and her deep and strong connections to family and community in her professional work — and faith in her professional work ethic — to get the job done,” Stephen Lane, a former IndyPL special collections librarian, said to the crowd. “This is why we can’t let this go.”
In a statement Dec. 8, Morley said it was clear the position was “not the right fit” for him and he was “disheartened by the way we have come to this point and decision.”
Public Services Officer Gregory Hills will serve as acting CEO and a search for a permanent CEO “will resume in the near future,” the library said in a statement.
However, calls from the community to hire Hayes as CEO instead of conducting a new search have continued to pour in in the form of letters, social media posts and a petition that has more than 1,300 signatures as of Dec. 12 — including people from New Orleans Public Library, where Morley previously worked.
Lane, Hayes’ former mentee and a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, was one of many speakers who called out members of the board during the protest. He said the majority of the board is in violation of their duties and read from the board of trustees’ manual, citing pages that outline board members’ responsibilities — including acting on the needs of the community, proper management of the library, employment discrimination, manipulating funds and referring complaints to the library to the proper level on chain of command.
“We see a major roadblock to our success from the very library board itself,” Lane said. “Now it’s the communities turn to remove a roadblock for Nichelle.”
Among the growing disdain for the board came public outcry from state Sen. Jean Breaux, who told the crowd she didn’t even know Hayes but couldn’t understand why someone with her qualifications would have been passed over for the job.
“I am here because what’s right is right,” Breaux said. “Why not give it to her? That’s why I’m here. I’m here to ask the question, why not Nichelle Hayes?”
Indianapolis City-County Councilor Leroy Robinson spoke up in support of Dr. Khaula Murtadha and Dr. Patricia Payne, the only board members to vote against offering Morley the job. Robinson told the crowd how both women played a role in raising him and whatever decisions they made, he would always be on their side.
“I’m late for a city-council vote, but this is more important to me,” Robinson said. “The thing that perplexes me the most is that you had two finalists. One withdrew and one remains.
“And what’s her name?” he asked the crowd, to which people responded with “Nichelle Hayes!”
Vickie Daniel, a local singer and actress, sang a verse from the song “If I Can Help Somebody” in support of Hayes. She told the Recorder in an interview that she still has hope in the library’s future but lacks confidence in the board — excluding members Murtadha and Payne.
However, Daniel said she’s concerned for Hayes’ well-being through all of this, and how the stress might be affecting her.
“I wonder about what price is she paying,” Daniel said, “physically, emotionally and mentally for it.”
Hayes, who is the founding director of the Center for Black Literature and Culture, is still employed with the library. She has told the Recorder she’s still assessing her future plans.
Pike Township Trustee Annette Johnson, who was one of the organizers of the protest, addressed the crowd later in the night after the sun had gone down and temperatures dropped. Johnson held a handmade sign that read “Do the right thing by Nichelle Hayes.”
“I know it’s cold out here but we’re out here for a purpose, and sometimes these can be a little uncomfortable,” she said before holding up her sign for all to see. “My sign says it all … do the right thing by Nichelle Hayes, and that’s what we want to take away tonight.”
Johnson emphasized the upcoming library board meeting on Dec. 19, encouraging people to attend and sign up for public comment. In that same meeting, Lane said the PSL plans to present the petition to hire Hayes as CEO to the board in person.
Michael Torres, the library union president, also addressed the crowd, calling for the board members — especially president Jose Salinas — to be held accountable and either hire Hayes or give the community a reason as to why they won’t hire her.
“We need to know why,” Torres told the Recorder after the protest. “As I said earlier, they never gave us any reasonable statement, a public statement, as to why they won’t hire Nichelle. At this point, it’s personal.”
Torres, who recently celebrated 25 years with IndyPL, said going forward the situation regarding the new CEO seems as if it would be an easy fix with enough community involvement.
“They can ignore the staff, they can ignore anything we say,” Torres said. “But when they hear from the community, that’s golden because the community is the one that supports the library. … They will listen to the community before they listen to the staff.”
CEO search continues
Salinas and fellow board member Hope Tribble, both of whom voted in favor of Morley, said in a statement Dec. 13 the majority of the board sided with Morley, believing he was best suited for the job with 20 years of library administration experience, compared to Hayes’ short stint as interim CEO.
“When considering this, alongside staff feedback, our own experience with the candidates, and several other inputs, we felt confident in our decision,” they said in a joint statement.
Salinas and Tribble said the board has not had discussions about the next steps in naming a new interim CEO and starting a new search process. Hayes’ term as interim ended when the board offered the permanent job to Morley.
“We, as a Board, absolutely recognize that the work on equity is continuous and ongoing,” the statement said. “The work is not being done only by one person. We have many staff who continue to work on implementation of the Climate Improvement Process recommendations, and we do not anticipate that to change while the CEO search continues.”
Contact staff writer Chloe McGowan at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @chloe_mcgowanxx.