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Sunday, September 19, 2021

‘It certainly wasn’t a love fest’: Indianapolis Public Library staff call for CEO resignation

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The Indianapolis Public Library (IndyPL) administration remains under fire for their response to racism allegations from former and current staff members. During a board of trustees meeting July 26, several employees and community members called for IndyPL CEO Jackie Nytes and board President Judge Jose Salinas to resign. 

Several speakers took issue with an email from Nytes that was inadvertently sent to staff members at the Eagle Branch, among others, on July 23. 

“… I assume you have seen the recent press about the Library, much of which is the result of some personal disagreements,” Nytes wrote. “We are talking about a letter from Black community leaders supporting me, the board and the Library. This could be sent as a Letter to the Editor of the Star, IBJ and Recorder with multiple signatures. DO you think you could recruit some Black leaders to sign it? Would you sign it? I don’t want to offend by asking, but it is clear that the Library is getting damaged by the current narrative and I just don’t think it is an accurate narrative and I am trying to counter it!”

In a statement, Nytes told the Recorder she feels public letters from people who know her professionally would “help tell a more complete story about our work.” Nytes also attached a letter she shared with community members, highlighting the library’s “commitment to tackle” racial equity.

Mollie Beaumont, a Latinx children’s librarian at IndyPL, said she was asked by administration not to speak at the board meeting. However, she addressed the board to share that she is “ashamed and embarrassed” about what is going on, and there is a “tokenization” of workers of color. 

Derek Ford, community member and a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, said Nytes’ depiction of recent allegations as a “personal disagreement” was “intellectually dishonest” and the issues within IndyPL are systemic.

The controversy began following the May board of trustees virtual meeting when Salinas muted former employee Bree Flannelly while she shared her experiences with alleged racism and ableism. Salinas said he was concerned about protecting workers’ privacy. 

Since Flannelly’s address to the board — which included an allegation that IndyPL staff have referred to Black patrons as “porch monkeys” and Black workers aren’t valued — dozens of people have spoken to the Recorder to share their experiences with racism within the institution, ranging from staff members to a former board member. 

Sharon Cruz, a “grateful patron” of IndyPL, said she supports calls from the Library Workers Union for Nytes to resign, saying library leadership must be able to lead an inclusive institution. 

“This leadership has proven they are not capable of handling the vestiges of the 20th Century,” Cruz said. “At what point should we the taxpayers put our foot down?”

In the first six months of 2021, the library has received $25.2 million in revenue, mostly coming from property taxes, according to a report from the treasurer.

Labor activist Doris Jones recalled being kicked out of an IndyPL branch when her then-infant daughter was making noise, but said none of the white families with loud children were approached by library staff. Jones, who was applying for jobs when she was kicked out, said many Indianapolis residents use the library to access things they don’t have at home, such as the internet and printers, to further their careers and lives. 

“When you deny me, you deny my daughter’s future,” Jones told the board. “Put yourself in our shoes for once, and if you can’t do that, you need to step the hell down.”

Library Workers Union President Michael Torres said the union’s demand that Nytes step down still stands, and the union wants to “build a leadership for everyone.”

“This is not ending,” Torres told the board. “ … We realized our leader still does not understand what is really happening. Due to the urgency of recent events … and because the CEO appears to be in denial of what is happening in the library, we believe she needs to step aside.”

Nytes has reiterated several times that she has no plans of resigning. Following the board meeting, Nytes was confronted by community member Connie Thompson about the email asking for support from the Black community. 

“Look at the language of the email,” Nytes told Thompson, who said during the meeting that the allegations made her rethink going to the library. “It wasn’t self-serving. There’s a lot of support for myself, the board and the library.”

Nytes told Thompson she felt “attacked” during the public comments section of the meeting, and that it “certainly wasn’t a love fest” when asked by Thompson to elaborate. 

Internal climate study debate

Following the public comments section of the meeting, the board discussed the internal climate study, which was proposed by board member Dr. Khaula Murtadha last month. While Murtadha said she originally proposed the study — which would consist of a task force made up of employees on the library’s equity council — board members Curtis Bigsbee and Salinas filed the proposal under the Diversity, Policy and Human Resources Committee. Murtadha, who is leading the climate study, is not a member of said committee. 

Committee chair Hope Tribble suggested having an independent organization lead the study to get an unbiased look at what is happening in the library. However, both Murtadha and board member Dr. Patricia Payne noted independent studies have taken place within the library several times since 2018. 

Further, Murtadha said involving members of the equity council and people who love the library would allow the study to capture the “complexity, the good, the bad and the ugly.” 

The meeting was interrupted by a community member at this point, who expressed concern that the climate study was being sabotaged because Nytes wasn’t allowed to take part in the study. 

During a diversity, policy and human resources committee meeting July 8, Nytes told Murtadha that she expected to have “some sort of … role in the committee,” because “I think that’s an important way for me to serve as a resource.”

Neither Payne nor Murtadha think Nytes should take part in information gathering for the study. Further, Torres said people wouldn’t come forward if Nytes was involved.

Salinas said he was in favor of having a climate study, but if a task force of library employees oversaw it, there would have to be clear guidelines to protect the privacy of employees. Tribble, Murtadha and Library Workers Union President Michael Torres all called for the creation of an anonymous complaint system, where workers could voice their concerns without fear of retaliation. 

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

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