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IndyPL loses funding amid racism allegations

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The Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF) on Aug. 9 announced it will withhold funding from Indianapolis Public Library (IndyPL) until a “measurable change toward a more equitable internal environment is evident.”

CICF funding for IndyPL comes from The Indianapolis Foundation, an affiliate of CICF. The library fund has a total of $28 million in it that IndyPL can use for expenses outside its operating budget. Last year, the library received $703,235 from the fund, according to Tamara Winfrey-Harris, vice president of community leadership and effective philanthropy for CICF. Much of that funding went toward community programming and outreach, including making Chromebooks and Wi-Fi hotspots available for checkout in the Haughville branch.

“We think it’s really important for any organization that is on a journey to interrogate whether they’re equitable. The first step is some internal searching, and the library is doing that,” Winfrey-Harris said, citing a planned climate study. “We look forward along with the public to hearing what the results of that survey are, and I think then we can sit down with the library and talk about what the metrics are for returning funding. … But we wouldn’t presume to tell them what they need to do.”

A breakdown of how funds from the Indianapolis Foundation Library Fund were spent in 2020. (Information provided by CICF)

For members of the Library Workers Union, the next step is clear: CEO Jackie Nytes should resign.

Since May, when board President Jose Salinas muted former employee Bree Flannelly while she discussed her experiences with racism and ableism at Central Library, former and current employees, along with board member Dr. Patricia Payne, have called on Nytes to step down.

“I do think it’s a good thing that CICF is withholding funding,” Payne said. “It’s hard to say that, because you really don’t want to jeopardize the community because of what is going on in terms of leadership, so it’s very hard. … The library belongs to the community, but you have to take some hard steps if we are going to make sure that the community has all it deserves, and it’s not going to get that with the present leadership.”

Stephen Lane, special collections librarian and union member, said changes in funding are a clear indicator that change is needed and quickly.

“We’re on the clock now,” Lane said. “We need [administration] to work together to figure out how you’re going to implement this climate study, and other parts of the demands from the union still need to be met, including resignations from Jackie Nytes and board President Jose Salinas. That would be a good start in getting CICF to see that we’re moving in the right direction so those funds can be released.”

Nytes has previously said she has no intentions of stepping down. However, she could not be reached for comment as to whether the CICF announcement changed her stance.  A representative for IndyPL said the funding hold will not impact any programming for 2021, and the library is evaluating the impact for 2022.

Despite efforts — including having board members go through racial equity training and the recent hiring of a diversity fellow to work in the human resources department — Payne said she hasn’t seen many changes from administration to indicate they’re taking the comments from staff to heart. However, she said employees are speaking out more than ever.

“Since I’ve been on the board, I haven’t heard the voices of staff like I am hearing now,” Payne said. “That’s the good thing from all of this. They’re speaking out and they have the courage to do this, and all that started because of Bree and the way that she was muted and treated. I’m very happy to see and hear voices coming forth that we have never heard before. Administration is going to have to finally listen to them, one way or the other.”

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

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