East Lansing Public Library makes changes in the year following incident involving racially profiling Black teen

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Image of the entrance to the East Lansing Public Library.

Peyton Skiver

The front entrance of the East Lansing Public Library.

After an interim period filled with uncertainty and change, the East Lansing Public Library is finally seeing some growth in terms of inclusivity for all library patrons after a controversial event last year.

On Jan. 11, 2023, the former library director Kristin Shelley called the police on a Black high school student after misidentifying him as another teen who was banned from the library a few months prior.

The racist incident caused many members of the community to criticize the former director and the library itself.

Shortly after Jan. 11, a subcommittee on the Board of Trustees was formed to investigate the day’s events. Trustees Ameenah Asante and Polly Synk made up the committee and wrote a 33-page report released a year later at the Jan. 17 board meeting.

“We looked into what the possible causes and issues were that led to the events that day to see what kind of improvements and progress the library can make toward being welcoming,” Synk said at the board meeting.

According to Interim Director Angelo Moreno, a significant issue the library had faced for years was the lack of staffing in the teen section. Because East Lansing High School is within walking distance from the library, many students often crowd the teen section daily, making it hard for staff to oversee that area.

Moreno said that one of the most significant changes the library has made in the past year is hiring a new teen services and school liaison librarian. He stated that this change has yielded results.

“Because that department is now staffed by a full-time and a part-time person, the full-time person can dedicate a lot more time, energy, and resources to building the relationships necessary for delivering the best possible teen services to our teen patrons,” Moreno said.

During the interim period, the library staff formed staffing and budget committees to work more collaboratively when making decisions for the library.

“Having the committees specifically allows more people to interact with the interim director and give their feedback. Then the director takes the feedback to make proposals for the library,” said Marketing and Communications Manager Gabrielle Kindig.

Both Moreno and Kindig also mentioned that the library staff is working on a strategic plan to get the most possible feedback from the community when making decisions for the library.

“It (the strategic plan) will be a really great opportunity to hear from our community and address it directly by making a plan for the next few years on how we want to reach those goals,” Kindig said.

Former director Shelley officially resigned in July of last year, and since then, the library has been searching for a new director. The library’s Board of Trustees officially chose Kevin King as the new director at a special board meeting on Jan. 10, and he will begin his role on March 4.

“What they (the board) did was ensure that participation in that process was open to significant numbers of staff, to the community, and to the schools. Because I believe strongly that that process was done correctly, I think the decision we made in terms of Kevin King is a good decision and an exciting decision,” Moreno said. “It really is an exciting time.”

Because of the many changes that have been made over the past year, it is evident that the East Lansing Public Library hopes to remain a safe space for all community members moving forward.

To learn more about the library’s operations and events, visit the East Lansing Public Library’s website at https://www.elpl.org/.

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