Free Library responds to erroneous report

Free Library of Philadelphia

Free Library of Philadelphia (Elana Gordon/WHYY)

Editors’ note: On Thursday, an op-ed was published in Speak Easy accidentally before it had been fact-checked. Its appearance on the site was strictly in error. The article has been removed from WHYY’s website because of a number of factual errors it contained. We sincerely regret the mistake.

The main contention of the op-ed was that the Free Library of Philadelphia has no people of color on its executive committee, which is untrue. The following is a response to the op-ed from the Free Library’s Vice President of External Affairs Sandy Horrocks.

Sandra Clark, vice president for news and civic dialogue
Eric Walter, editor, Speak Easy

How unfortunate that the author and WHYY did not bother to do any fact checking before publishing this op-ed. The piece is built upon a fabrication (“It was reported,” Mr. Kaye amorphously claims. By whom?) and makes only inflammatory guesses about the Library’s work from there.

The Library is firmly committed to diversity and has for years worked to promote minority candidates within the institution. We applied for and received funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services for the “Growing Your Own” community-based librarian program, which specifically assisted library staff with completing credits needed for a bachelor’s degree; this initiative also supported more than 15 staff members in getting their masters in library science degrees. We continue to seek funding to support the educational goals of our staff.  

In 2008 we were proud that for the first time in the history of the Library, a woman director was chosen to lead the organization. Our staff speaks over 30 languages, and our New Americans Committee has been at work for years to engage and welcome those just arriving in our community. Our materials are regularly translated into other languages to reach Philadelphia’s non-English speakers, and the committee is actively working to expand the reach of this critical service. 

We have worked to grow the diversity of our executive team, neighborhood library leaders, and boards. Last year, our Board of Trustees became a majority minority for the first time. More than a third of these board members are African American. The head of the Parkway Central Library is Asian American. The head of the new Marrero Library is African American. And more than 50 percent of our staff comprises minority individuals. We have diversity at every level of the organization — not by accident, but because we know it is essential to serving Philadelphia’s vibrant community. 

We have diversity training at every level of the system, including executive staff. We know this training is not a replacement for a more diverse body itself — but it is nonetheless critical to any organization’s hope to serve this city. We have been working closely with the Mayor’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, a liaison of which is on our Library staff. And we have committed nationally to these goals, as a proud signatory of the Urban Libraries Council Statement on Race and Social Equity — by which we have agreed specifically to eliminate racial and social equity barriers in library programs, services, policies, and practices, as well as to create and maintain an environment of diversity, inclusion, and respect both in our library systems and in all aspects of our community role. Our agreement to this statement, as well as our system’s own inclusivity statement, is posted on our website — both of which guide our work every day.  

To the writer’s core premise — that we have no racial minorities on our executive team — in fact we have three.  We know this is not enough. We know we have work to do to increase this number. But to hurl the label of white supremacy at an institution whose every program and service — and whose staff’s passionate and exhausted work, day in and day out — is directed ONLY at serving the needs of Philadelphia’s diverse population, is merely meant to inflame and incite, not to serve our city. The power of language — our words, our stories, our conversations — is sacred to us, as is the accuracy of ideas. We stand up for them, and Mr. Kaye clearly does not.  

Sandy Horrocks is the vice president of external affairs of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

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