Lawrence Public Library hires first diversity coordinator; executive director says he wants library to be ‘an anti-racist organization’
photo by: Ashley Golledge
Public libraries are meant to be places for everybody, and local library leaders say a newly created position will help ensure that everyone will see the library as somewhere they belong.
Lawrence Public Library Executive Director Brad Allen said that the library decided to create a diversity coordinator position in the wake of protests earlier this year over the police killings of Black people and other people of color. The library hired Frankie Haynes to fill the position, and she began her new role Nov. 30.
Allen said he thinks fundamental changes might be on the horizon in how organizations address issues of race and equity, and he wanted the library to be intentional in its efforts.
“I think to do this work well with the systemic and infrastructural racism that we have, you need to have someone that is constantly the advocate and point person,” Allen said. “I feel like we needed to center this work.”
Allen said that Haynes’ work would be multifaceted, but that she would start within the library and work outward, hopefully involving the broader community as time goes on. At the beginning, Allen said Haynes would review the library’s policies and procedures, conduct equity training for staff and examine the library’s hiring processes. Allen said the goal there is for library staff to better reflect the city’s demographics.
“We all agree that our staff is not as diverse as we’d like it to be, especially from a racial standpoint,” Allen said. “We need to reflect back Latinx, African-American and other communities so that they see themselves at the library.”
Haynes, who has a background in social justice work, said she has always been interested in diversity advocacy. She said her late mother did diversity and inclusion work throughout her career. Haynes said both within her home and her larger community, it was just the world she grew up in.
“I grew up in Overland Park and my mom was Black and my dad was white, so I grew up in a very white community as a biracial person,” Haynes said. “And it was definitely a formative experience, toeing the line of both of these cultures.”
Haynes moved to Lawrence eight years ago to attend the University of Kansas, where she graduated with bachelor’s degrees in psychology and human sexuality. After graduating, she worked at the YWCA Center for Safety and Empowerment, where she said she and her colleagues worked to understand how intersecting identities affected their clients. Before joining the library’s staff, she was the community service coordinator for Douglas County.
Allen said that while the library had worked to advance equity issues, such as its policy that eliminated late fees, he wanted the library to go far beyond that. As part of that larger effort, Haynes will also be leading an anti-racist task force made up of library staff and potentially other community members.
“While it’s important to look at all of these diversity efforts, for me the one that is the most critical in my mind is how we deal with racism,” Allen said. “I want us to be an anti-racist library, an anti-racist organization. That’s abstract and philosophical, so what does that look like?”
Regarding staffing at the library, Haynes said she hoped to break down barriers to entering library professions. That would include making the hiring process as accessible as possible and could potentially involve working with local high school students to help create a pipeline. She said she would be analyzing the library’s current policies and procedures to see how they might be creating inequities.
Allen said the creation of the position has so far had no net impact on the library’s budget, which largely comes from property tax dollars. He said the library recently did some staff restructuring, which included the elimination of some currently vacant positions and the creation of the diversity coordinator position and a human resources position. The City of Lawrence also recently hired Farris Muhammad, its first director of equity and inclusion, and Allen said he hoped Muhammad and Haynes would have a chance to work together.
Haynes said her work in the new position is important because a library is one of the last free public spaces, and she wants to make sure people of color in the Lawrence community feel like the library is a place for them. She said the needs of the library and the community would help dictate what kinds of training, policies and other initiatives are undertaken, and that it would be an ongoing and collective process.
“No position is a magic wand,” Haynes said, adding that that’s the case for positions like hers or any position. “It’s really about working together toward a common goal, and no one person is going to magically change things. It’s about working together as a team.”