In an effort to “make good” on the idea that libraries are a safe space for all, the Downers Grove Public Library is working to incorporate equity, diversity and inclusion in its next strategic plan and already has begun taking steps in the process.
This is the first year of the library’s trajectory in EDI efforts, and this year is focused on educating the library’s board and staff, said Julie Milavec, director of the Downers Grove Public Library. At the same time, she said, an equity advisory team has been put together to create an equity strategic plan for the organization. The advisory team is made up of board members, staff and community members and was put together earlier this year, Milavec said.
“We want to embed equity work in everything we do,” Milavec said. “We have to be prepared and ready as an organization to welcome all members of the community to the library, and if the staff isn’t ready, we can’t do that.”
Milavec said the equity advisory team is taking its time to develop goals and map out the best approach for the library, and that it’s important to the organization that it be done in an inclusive way. She said libraries are made to be the “great equalizer,” and to do so, the library needs to reach out to communities it hasn’t always reached out to in the past.
One group the library already has partnered with is EQDG Pride, an advocacy and awareness group for LGBTQ+ community members and allies. Recently, the partnership led to an educational event regarding pronouns, hosted through the library and facilitated by Andi Voinovich, a member of EQDG Pride. About 40 people attended the one-hour Zoom event live to discuss pronouns and gender, and the YouTube recording of the event now has more than 150 views. Voinovich said the partnership with the library is crucial because there is a need in the community for education and the creation of a safe space where marginalized groups can be heard rather than silenced or spoken over.
“If you look at some of the big things the library is trying to do, they’re trying to connect with the community, and working with EQDG is showing that effort,” Voinovich said. “The work of a library is the work of a community at large, [and] it means something when you allow people in marginalized groups to speak for themselves.”
In addition to educational forums such as the pronoun event, the library has released a number of anti-hate statements, the most recent being a message against antisemitism and Islamophobia. Milavec said the statements are a reflection of what is going on in the world and are the library’s effort of reaching out in an attempt to let marginalized groups know the library is welcoming to all.
World events and monthlong observances ignite the library’s reading lists as well, Milavec said. Some lists, for example, have been inspired by Black History Month, Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Women’s History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month.
“As a library, the educational piece is what we do, and it’s so important because people have questions about things and need a safe space to ask those questions and learn,” Milavec said. “We want everyone in the community to know they belong here.”
Mary Blanchard, a member of EQDG Pride, said the library’s efforts have not gone unnoticed, which is why the library was one of the first places that EQDG Pride went to when seeking a partnership and support from the community. She said what the library is doing has demonstrated efforts of inclusion in a lot of ways.
“It’s just so meaningful what the library is doing,” Blanchard said. “It allows people to feel more at ease in the community they live in, and that’s huge.”