Black Lives Matter

As Ohio’s first free public library founded in 1838, Toledo Lucas County Public Library (TLCPL) has a long tradition of providing equitable access to information and knowledge for neighborhoods throughout Toledo and Lucas County. Still, the Library and the communities we serve inherit generations of systemic inequality built on decades of discrimination based on race, class, and gender. Indeed, the history of American public libraries contains its own chapters where Black people, women, poor and working class people were denied access to libraries. Thankfully, libraries have emerged throughout the 21st century as leaders in dismantling systems of oppression by providing unfettered access to information and resources that have been unevenly distributed for generations. Racism is a public health issue. It is at the core of social determinants of health (education, employment, housing), and much of the Library’s work is dedicated to ensuring our communities have access to the resources they need to be strong, healthy, and whole. It is the job of all library leaders and staff to acknowledge that our work around access and equity is not finished, and we must ensure our actions reflect a substantive, measurable, and honest approach to addressing structural inequality.

As of June 2020, the Toledo Lucas County Public Library will answer this challenge by transitioning the work of the Library’s nearly decade-old Diversity Initiatives Group (DIG) committee to an advisory group on equity, diversity, and inclusion. Building on the important awareness-raising and difference-celebrating work of DIG, this new advisory group will be challenged to analyze the Library’s policies and practices against metrics of access, equity, representation, and inclusion.

The group will be composed of a diverse group of Library staff from all corners of the Library. They will ask tough questions and provide feedback and guidance to Library leadership around a broad range of issues including recruiting and hiring, training, collection development, program offerings, technology investment, physical and digital access, and organizational strategy. I know that initiatives like this stand little chance for success without support from organizational leaders, which is why today I am affirming the Executive Leadership Team’s commitment to the essential future work of this group.

This transition follows several years of the Library’s explicit focus on recruiting and retaining a workforce that represents the diversity of the communities we serve. I’m proud that in two years, the Library has recruited a more diverse workforce than the demographics of our community. 28 percent of Library staff are Black, Latino, Asian or Pacific Islander in a county that is 27 percent nonwhite according to Census data. Additionally, 26 percent of leadership/management positions are held by Black and Latino staff. However, we know there is still work to do. Libraries across the country need to acknowledge that until we see diverse representation from frontline staff to administration and leadership ranks, our work is not done. To the contrary, our work in this space will be ongoing, as is our commitment to ensuring that our programs, services, and resources are offered amply and equitably to neighborhoods throughout the county.

Jason Kucsma
Executive Director/Fiscal Officer
Toledo Lucas County Public Library
June 8, 2020

What else can we do? TLCPL would like to hear from you as we work to make meaningful change together.

Black Lives Matter

Public Safety and TLCPL

The national protests around police brutality are challenging the Library to examine our own policies and beliefs around safety and security as we continue a phased reopening of Library buildings. In recent years, the Library has emphasized the importance of non-confrontational strategies for our contracted officers, and I’ve worked with Jeff Sabo to help ensure our officers are embracing and modeling Library values in their work. I am proud of the progress we’ve made in this space, but the fact remains the officers have remained uniformed and armed. It is past time for the Library to ask, what does it feel like to live in a community where armed officers monitor your behavior? Does an armed officer presence represent more of a threat than a form of protection? How does this make youth view their place in the community? Does it make the Library welcoming? What inequity is the Library advancing with the presence of armed officers in some locations and not others?

I want to repeat the Library’s statement shared about equity above and say unequivocally that Black Lives Matter. One way TLCPL will bring action to this statement is by making fundamental changes to our public safety practices. We want to ensure we are not adding harm to the communities we serve—communities that have suffered from generations of aggressive policing.

Next week, we will open Main Library, Sanger, Mott, West Toledo and Heatherdowns for computer access. Four of these locations previously were assigned uniformed, armed public safety officers. When we reopen, we will maintain these assignments, but the officers will be dressed in a plain clothes uniform and will not be armed. Rest assured they will still play the same invaluable role in helping staff de-escalate conflict, address behavior guideline infractions, and generally support staff in maintaining calm in our buildings.

To provide additional resources for staff, the Library will maintain two armed road patrol units for responding to major incidents that may include violence, weapons, drugs, or other imminent threats to staff and customer safety. Having the two road patrol units will improve response time should they need to respond to an incident at any of our locations. Toledo police response times may vary widely based on cutbacks, current incidents, and more, so we want to be equipped and able to de-escalate and professionally handle a serious situation on our own if need be. We will also maintain two armed officers at Main for various activities that might require an armed officer.

As more locations begin to open, we will reassign officers to those locations that previously had officers. Similar to the locations opening next week, safety officers will not be armed nor will they wear the traditional law enforcement uniforms they once had.

This is a first step, but you can expect more changes in the future. A new public safety work group is currently being assembled, composed of staff from across the organization as well as some outside counsel to guide us. This will be challenging work where we attempt to untangle complex questions about what safety means, who is perceived as a threat, what individual biases we bring to our expectations around public safety, and how we can ensure our public safety practices are advancing positive outcomes for staff, customers, and the community.

This group will be tasked with redefining our public safety approach based on a fundamental question: What are the most effective means for maintaining public and staff safety in our buildings? We know engagement in our libraries is one of the key ways to reduce unwanted activity. I’m optimistic this group will offer suggestions for how we can increase positive engagement with our community that may quell the kind of activity that disrupts other customers’ experiences or otherwise challenges staff’s ability to maintain a safe space for learning and exploring.

Questioning what is the most effective means to accomplish public and staff safety could lead us to a very different space and recalibrate our decisions around staffing, budget, and protocol. Perhaps we can fund social workers to address needs in lieu of officers. Perhaps we can work with mentor groups who specialize in working with youth. Perhaps we can fund programs that are proven to engage and advance youth. I do not know what the work group will recommend, but I do know it will help us evolve our approach to public safety and improve our ability to live our values as an organization. We will assemble the team within the next week and ask for their recommendations by July 31. While this group will guide our efforts, we will all have a role to play. We will have ongoing and transparent conversation around this topic as well as training support.

I am hopeful that our organizational efforts around explicitly addressing the Library’s role in societal failures around race and equity will inspire other organizations to reexamine their practices as each of us work for change.