Last year, allegations of inequality and ineffective leadership at the Indianapolis Public Library led to personnel changes and the resignation of longtime CEO Jackie Nytes. A new diversity, equity and inclusion officer has been hired to improve the library’s working environment. WFYI’s Terri Dee spoke with Keesha Hughes on how she views the library’s management style and her goal to make the institution a more welcoming place for employees and the community.
WFYI’s Terri Dee: What elements in particular drew you to the field of diversity, equity and inclusion?
Indianapolis Public Library Equity and Inclusion Officer Keesha Hughes: As I was learning about PR and communications, I really started to learn more about organizations that have diversity, equity and inclusion as a part of their business model. They treat DEI with the same focus, the same rigor, the same priority as they do operations or finance. So, when I understood that there are organizations that really prioritize DEI, I wanted to learn more about what makes good diversity, equity and inclusion, what makes it effective, what makes it beneficial to the employees and the communities that it serves.
Dee: The last 12 to 18 months have been ones of controversy, questions and frustrations geared towards management within the Indianapolis Library system. There were allegations of systemic racism and discrimination. Have you been following what had been seen in the news? What is your assessment? Do you think those allegations were valid?
Hughes: Of course, I did follow much of that in the news. The leadership that I've encountered are people who are committed to doing this work to make the environment a better place. It would be naive to say that none of these unpleasant things have happened to people. That's not the world we live in. So, people have their experiences, for sure. But I think our role as leaders now is to get to the bottom of it; to hold people accountable who perhaps have done things to employees that just don't live up to the library's values, standards and mission. So, I think we just have to take it one situation at a time, get to the bottom of it, and figure out how we educate people how we move forward so these things can't continue to happen.
Dee: What do you see as your biggest challenge in your new role?
Hughes: Just reassuring people, their experiences are valid. That there are people who really do want to create change, who do want to shake the status quo. There's potential for us to take those unpleasant situations, fix them as best as we can in terms of unjust policies, and to make the environment better for everyone. That's going to be the challenge; just convincing people that things truly can be different. We are committed to moving the library forward with some of these issues that have been experienced in the past between promoting literacy and offering classes and resources to people. I just want to be a part of the movement to make it a better place which can improve and make our city a better place.
Dee: Thank you for taking the time out to speak about your role and your responsibilities.
Hughes: Thank you for your time.