Pikes Peak Library District has focused efforts on equity and diversity in several segments of the community | Content reserved for subscribers

Many readers head to libraries in search of peaceful respite in a pleasant atmosphere, a vision of tranquility seen in stark contrast to the accusations of politicization that have swirled around the leadership of the Pikes Peak Library District in recent months .

Since then, district leaders say high-level community dissent has not influenced operational decisions or the district’s mission to reach all community members.

The Colorado Springs City Council is temporarily deadlocked over the nomination of two new library board members, Aaron Salt and Erin Bents, in November amid a debate over issues including the policies of masks at the start of the pandemic, the district’s work with homeless residents, and the management of materials and books, among other issues.

The two council members were appointed in February after Councilor Stephannie Fortune replaced Councilor Richard Skorman, increasing support for the new representatives who took their seats.

The controversies led to the resignation of Chief Librarian and CEO John Spears, who feared that political rhetoric was having too much influence on community boards.

According to the American Library Association, libraries nationwide have seen an increase in controversy with efforts to ban books with themes that focus on gender or race. The Pikes Peak Library District has not seen the same increase in challenges to books, said interim CEO Teona Shainidze Krebs.

Nationally, the conversation also criticized diversity, equity and inclusion programs, and it miscategorized discussions about local work, said Dora Gonzales, secretary and treasurer of the library board.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion is about being welcoming to all, accepting to all, being inclusive to all. It’s not about what we read nationwide,” Gonzales said. .

Gonzales said diversity, equity and inclusion has been portrayed nationally as simply being about race and that’s not how the library has shaped its agenda at all.

When the Pikes Peak Library District assessed the groups it needed to serve more effectively through its new Equity, Diversity and Inclusion department two years ago, residents with disabilities, people seniors, homeschooling families, the military and members of the faith community stood up for the summit, Shainidze Krebs said.

While the library had served these groups in the past, the new department led by Shirley Martinez gave more structure to these efforts to reach specific community groups. An audit by a third-party group helped inform the work, Shainidze Krebs.

Although the library has introduced offerings for these groups, the library’s overall mission to serve everyone has not changed, she said.

“We want everyone to see themselves in our offerings,” she said.

To help improve offerings to evangelical teens, the library is working with Focus on the Family on a list of recommended materials.

Focus on the Family spokesperson Paul Batura said the Colorado Springs-based nonprofit recommended that the “Imagination Station” book series, “Adventures in Odyssey” audio drama series and the Clubhouse magazine be included in a list to help families find faith-based resources. .

The district is also working with inner-city churches on developing book clubs for teens, Shainidze Krebs said. The library also has a partnership with Inside Out Youth Services, a nonprofit that serves lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and questioning youth and helped them start a pop culture club during the pandemic.

To help military service members, she said, library staff have held events to ensure soldiers at Fort Carson have access to its free online language-learning app, Mango Languages. , which they can use during their deployment.

For homeschooled families, the library has created learning kits to improve access beyond the East Library’s Learning Resource Center.

Staff are restarting lunches and movie events for seniors after suspending many in-person events during the pandemic, she said, and they have also partnered with Silver Key Senior Services to deliver meals to people rural elders at Calhan Library.

Ensuring that people with disabilities have access to library services has also been a significant effort and encompasses reaching people with physical and cognitive disabilities. For example, the Library District worked with the City of Palmer Lake to ensure the library was fully accessible and it reopened on March 2. Construction added a ramp so people with physical disabilities can enter the building, spokeswoman Michelle Ray said.

Although homeless residents were not a specific target identified by the third-party assessment, the district is also launching a program to teach digital literacy classes at the Springs Rescue Mission that will help them find jobs, said Shainidze Krebs.

The library did not make substantial changes to its collections policy, which needed to be revised following the addition of the two new board members, Gonzalez said, which shows the strength of the document. It is revised in turn with other policies.

“We all need to have different perspectives, new faces and a new way of thinking,” she said.

The board is beginning work to replace Spears, but hasn’t set a timeline for filling the position, Gonzalez said.

About Elaine Morales

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