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‘Don’t let them silence you’: library union voices demands

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Members of the Indiana Library Workers Union, along with representatives of the Indianapolis Liberation Center, rallied outside the Indianapolis Public Library (IndyPL) Library Services Center on July 9 to voice their concerns regarding racism allegations. They also voiced several demands, including the removal of IndyPL CEO Jackie Nytes and board of trustees President Jose Salinas. 

Stories of alleged racism coming out of IndyPL began after former employee Bree Flannelly’s microphone was muted as she attempted to address the board of trustees during a virtual meeting. After board members Drs. Patricia Payne and Khaula Murtadha told Salinas to unmute her microphone, Flannelly shared allegations of discrimination — including racism and ableism — from upper management. Flannelly said when she had meetings with Nytes, she was “gaslit” and nothing was done to address the problems. 

Nytes denied the allegations of racism, saying the problems in the library are being exaggerated. said the allegations are overblown, and that the problems in the library aren’t as negative as they are being portrayed. 

However, union members say many employees, particularly those of color, cannot wait for the predominantly white executive leadership to address the racism allegations.  

“We need new leadership who are willing to advance equity,” special collections librarian and union member Stephen Lane said. “The current leadership is ill equipped and unwilling to do it. … We don’t need leaders who are ‘on a journey,’ we need them to have already done the work.”

Both Nytes and Salinas have said they have no intentions of stepping down. Library Workers Union President Michael Torres and labor activist Doris Jones said library leadership want to avoid the controversy.

“To the CEOs,” Jones said to the crowd, “if you want to avoid the racism in your institutions, we’re gonna make it your problem. … We ain’t afraid of your ass.” 

Stephen Lane, special collections librarian and union member, said he hopes to see the community have a more active role in the public library. 

“I want people to have their interests represented,” Lane said. “That means having a board that’s not as political, and making sure that patrons and employees are having their needs met and having their voices heard.”

At the last library board of trustees meeting June 28, board members announced they would undergo racial equity training. Further, Murtadha will oversee an internal climate study to determine how employees feel about the library. 

During a diversity, policy and human resources committee meeting July 8, Murtadha expressed frustrations with stories she’s heard from library employees, including one incident where an employee was confronted by a supervisor about a conversation that happened with Murtadha. 

“That’s truly troubling,” Murtadha told members of the meeting, including Nytes. “And when I do climate studies all around schools and other places, I really work for people to be able to come and talk to me and say to me whatever they’re feeling, knowing that I will try to affect change.”

The union had already planned the rally, but the human resources committee meeting ignited a sense of urgency, with some workers fearing Nytes is attempting to undermine the study. 

In the meeting, Nytes said she had expected “some sort of … role in the committee,” because “I think that’s an important way for me to serve as a resource.”

Payne and Murtadha said during the meeting Nytes shouldn’t be a part of the information gathering for the study.

“People won’t come forward if [Nytes] is involved,” Torres said during an interview at the rally. “There’s a level of intimidation there. Now, people trust Dr. Murtadha, because they see how she’s engaged.” 

Amid chants of “Jackie Nytes must go,” the rally ended with Torres encouraging the group to speak out about injustices they face or see in the library. 

“We need change now,” Torres said. “Don’t let them silence you.”

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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