Nichelle M. Hayes was appointed interim CEO of Indianapolis Public Library (IndyPL) during a board of trustees meeting March 28. The board unanimously voted for Hayes, who has been the director of the Center for Black Literature and Culture at IndyPL’s Central Library since 2017. She’ll begin her tenure as interim April 1.
The move comes after current interim CEO John Helling announced his resignation earlier this month. Helling became interim in September 2021 following the resignation of Jackie Nytes after allegations of racism.
“My hope is that moving forward with our interim CEO, the board and all our staff will continue to come together for the good of the library and the community it serves,” Judge Jose Salinas, president of the board of trustees, said after Hayes was confirmed as interim.
Hayes has been an IndyPL employee since 2015. She also serves as the vice president of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. She made the decision to apply for the interim CEO position just a few weeks ago, but said she’s heard from staff for a few years now that she should move into a leadership position. And with the library system now working toward a more equitable culture, both the board and representatives of the Library Workers Union say she’s the right person for the job.
“The work I’m doing with the Black Caucus of the ALA and the fact that I have lived experience as a person of color in America, I think this gives me a unique perspective for what we need moving forward,” Hayes said. “I’m a bridge builder, and that’s what the library needs at this time.”
Hayes’ stint as interim CEO begins on the heels of Ice Miller sharing the findings from IndyPL’s long awaited internal climate study. After months of internal debate among the board, surveys were sent to library employees in December 2021. The findings, which were shared with the board March 23, found that roughly 22% of Black IndyPL employees report race-based harassment in the past year. While Hayes only has about four months as interim — board member Hope Tribble said final interviews for a permanent CEO should take place in August — she wants to use the findings to improve the library and start the healing process.
“I want to use the study to make us better,” Hayes said. “It’s a chance to see where we are and where we can improve and then move forward together. We’re stronger together, and I think we have to look at the hurt. Perhaps I might not have experienced all of those things described in the climate study, but someone did, and we have to address that.”
After news of Hayes’ appointment broke — paired with the findings of the climate study — some expressed concern that the board or administration might make it difficult for her to succeed.
“I have heard great things about Hayes, but this will not be easy for her,” educator Shawnta Barnes said in a tweet. “I hope the board of trustees realizes that appointing a Black woman does not immediately fix the environment for other Black library employees who have self-reported being on the receiving end of racism.”
Hayes, however, views her new position as a chance to help the library move forward and begin what she calls a truth and reconciliation process.
“We’ve seen the climate study, we’ve seen what people have experienced and we’re starting to have hard conversations internally,” Hayes said. “We have to understand that this really did happen to people, and it can’t happen any longer under our watch. We’re going to have a zero-tolerance policy for not treating people as the wonderful human beings they are. And that’s across the board … everyone is a human being and worthy of respect.”
Hayes doesn’t know if she’s going to apply for the permanent CEO position. She wants to focus on the important work she has as interim.
“It’s too soon to tell what issues I can tackle, but I want to make good use of this time,” Hayes said. “We have time to make some positive changes for our system, and I want to do that in any way I possibly can for our amazing staff and the community we serve.”
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.