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Boston Public Library announces plan to address systemic racism and inequity

The Board of Trustees of the Boston Public Library announced Tuesday that it unanimously ratified an action plan to make the library an antiracist organization.

The document affirms the library’s commitment to addressing systemic racism and inequity, and outlines the steps that will be taken, including reviewing the library’s hiring and recruitment strategies and acquisition policies.

“We recognize that Black, Indigenous and People of Color all experience racism, xenophobia and oppression in our society, whether it be individually or systemically,” the document states. “We acknowledge as well that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected Black communities and communities of color. As a cultural institution, we recognize that our own inherited organizational legacy includes institutional and systemic racism.”

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Library officials said the action plan was created with the input of of library staff, the board of trustees, and Karilyn Crockett, the city of Boston’s first chief of equity. It was ratified by the board of trustees on Sept. 29.

In a press release announcing the action plan, library president David Leonard underscored the library’s commitment.

“At the entrances to the BPL’s Central Library and branches are etched the words ‘Free to All,’ ” Leonard said in the statement. "This institution is founded on principles of inclusion and ensuring equal access to information, education, and opportunity. Every single day, we must put these words into practice, working to ensure that access is indeed, free to all. This moment calls us to formally stand against racism; as well as sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and all other forms of systemic oppression.”

Library officials said they are currently reviewing the library’s acquisition policy to ensure collections are developed “with an intentional focus on raising the voices of people of color through representation, inclusivity, and diversity.” The Boston Public Library Fund also recently received an anonymous $75,000 grant to add additional digital copies of books to the library’s antiracist reading list to increase accessibility and reduce the patron wait times.

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Library officials said that since the killing of George Floyd in May, the library has seen a more than 500 percent increase in checkouts and holds on popular Black Lives Matter and antiracism titles, and wait times on many had risen to more than 12 weeks. At one point more than 1,200 patrons were waiting for copies of “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” by Robin DiAngelo and “How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi, officials said.

Boston Public Library officials also announced that in September they began working with consultants from YW Boston to help library staff and administrators incorporate an equity perspective into all of the library’s services, programs, and policies.


Emily Sweeney can be reached at emily.sweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney and on Instagram @emilysweeney22.