August 25, 2021

Indy Library Board Names Interim CEO, But Union Wants More Change

The board for the Indianapolis Public Library is searching for a permanent CEO and still trying to address ongoing complaints about racism.

The board for the Indianapolis Public Library is searching for a permanent CEO and still trying to address ongoing complaints about racism.

Updated Sept. 3

The Indianapolis Public Library board of trustees named Chief Public Services Officer John Helling as interim CEO during a regular board meeting Monday. The board will conduct a national search for a CEO.

Helling will replace Jackie Nytes, who will resign effective Aug. 31. Nytes’ resignation came during a special board meeting Aug. 20. Helling said his first goal as interim is to facilitate a smooth transition of power and create an environment where staff feel engaged and supported.

“Structural racism is very real and the library is no exception to that,” Helling said during the meeting. “We have a lot of work to do to improve.”

Nytes’ resignation comes after months of public outcry over allegations of racism and ableism, as well as loss of funding. Earlier in August, the Central Indianapolis Community Foundation announced it would withhold $28 million worth of funding from the library until an improvement is made.

Read More: Indianapolis Public Library Staff Call On CEO To Resign

In an internal email to library staff Aug. 21, Nytes said she is confident Helling will move the library in a positive direction.

John Helling

“I am grateful for John’s willingness to assume this role at this time and have total confidence in his ability to provide the leadership that is needed,” Nytes wrote. “Please join me in giving John your total support. He is a good listener among other things and has the right experience and insight for the role.”

Members of the Library Workers Union told the Recorder, while they’re pleased with Nytes’ resignation, there is concern Helling’s interim position will lead to “more of the same.”

Union members are still calling for the resignation of board President Jose Salinas. Salinas, who garnered criticism after muting former employee Bree Flannelly during the May board meeting, has said he doesn’t plan to step down. In a previous interview with the Recorder, Salinas said he muted Flannelly because he was concerned she would share personnel information, and he said he’s “disheartened” by allegations of racism.

Internal Climate Process Debate Wages On

Since May, board members have discussed an internal climate process to gauge how workers and patrons feel about library conditions. However, they have yet to reach an agreement about how it should be handled.

Dr. Khaula Murtadha, who proposed the climate study, wants to create a taskforce of members of the library’s equity council and members of the community to gather information.

Salinas argues having a board member overseeing the taskforce could be a conflict of interest and could make workers uncomfortable. He previously proposed bringing in an outside organization to conduct the study. Murtadha and Dr. Patricia Payne argued that has been done in the past and yielded few results.

Read More: Nytes Talks About Equity Efforts At Indy Public Library

During the board meeting, Andrea Copeland, chair and program director of the Department of Library and Information Science at IUPUI and Murtadha’s colleague, spoke in support of Murtadha leading the taskforce.

“Her plan centers on the staff … and is a community-based plan,” Copeland said. “It increases the chance that all staff will feel comfortable … and is needed to heal the organization at no cost to the library.”

Board member Hope Tribble, chair of the Diversity, Policy and Human Resources Committee, requested more information on Murtadha’s plan and invited Murtadha to a committee meeting before making a recommendation to the board.

Salinas expects the process to be finished by the end of this year. Further, librarian Stephen Lane — who has been vocal about racism within the library — said Nytes’ resignation will help the board move forward with the process in an effort to retain some of the funding lost during the controversy.

“We take very seriously this opportunity to listen … and learn,” Murtadha said following public comments at the board meeting.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said the new interim CEO of the Indianapolis Public Library is former chief public information officer Jack Helling. The job title and first name were incorrect. Interim CEO John Helling was the library's chief public services officer.

This story was initially published by the Indianapolis Recorder, a partner of WFYI. Contact Indianapolis Recorder reporter Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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