Lesley Williams is leaving Evanston Public Library. Credit: Brian Benson

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Evanston Public Library’s controversial “cranky librarian,” Lesley Williams, announced today that she is resigning from her job as head of adult services, and will leave the library after more than 20 years of service.

Williams, a popular figure in the community, and the library’s only full-time black librarian, has been at the center of controversy since a disciplinary suspension in the spring that was the subject of public protest.

Another, more recent suspension, with threat of firing (over a Facebook post that was critical of the library’s record on inclusiveness) blew up on the library’s board and director, Karen Danczak Lyons, when e-mails were released that revealed that board members and Danczak Lyons had been talking about getting rid of Williams for several years.

Did they pay her to go away now?  No one’s saying, but Williams won’t have to rush into another job.

“I am in a position to not need to look for a new job immediately, so I am continuing my work advocating for a meaningful equity audit (or “assessment” if you prefer) of library services, as well as continuing to volunteer with Open Communities, Jewish Voice for Peace and other progressive nonprofits,” was how she put it, in an e-mail.

Here’s Williams’s full public statement:  

After lengthy discussions with the City of Evanston, I have decided to resign from my position as Head of Adult Services at the Evanston Public Library. The current hostile atmosphere and mistrust would make it impossible for me to continue to be effective.

I take this step with deep regret and sorrow. I have treasured my 20 years at EPL, and the many friendships and collegial relationships formed there. I am proud of my achievements: creating the Community Engagement and Latino Outreach positions, the 11 Months of African American History program series, the Mission Impossible reading series, the Muslim Journeys series, the Latino 500 series, and the African American Literature discussion group. None of these would have been possible without the creativity and support of many beloved colleagues.

I am grateful and appreciative for partnerships with many Evanston organizations: Piven Theatre, Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre, The Block Gallery, Muse of Fire, Etc Music School, The Frances Willard House and Museum, Northwestern’s Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, SOUL Creations, the Evanston Literary Festival, the Bienen School of Music, Dance Center Evanston, Bookends and Beginnings, St James Armenian Church, Neighbors for Peace, Comix Revolution, Lake Street Church, Open Communities, Evanston Art Center, Evanston Republican Club, League of Women Voters, Evanston History Museum, Evanston NorthShore YWCA, Northwestern University Archives, Shorefront Legacy Center, Second Baptist Church, Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, and the Office of State Representative Robyn Gabel. I have also been fortunate to work with outstanding cultural organizations from the wider Chicago area: Goodman Theatre, Chicago Folks Operetta, Northlight Theatre, Lyric Opera Society, and Silk Road Rising. Thank you all for your multi-faceted contributions to the cultural life of Evanston through your work with the library.

Although I will no longer be employed by the Evanston Public Library, as an Evanston resident and an advocate for social justice and intellectual freedom, I will continue to work with community members determined to push for full racial equity in library services, collections, hiring, and locations. These are critical concerns which go far beyond a mere “personnel dispute”. I hope that by removing my individual status from the debate, Evanston will be able to focus on the injustice of a publicly funded government institution which continues to resist confronting the inequitable service it provides to lower income, African American and Latinx residents.

To all the friends, library patrons and organizations that have written, called, Facebooked and tweeted their support: you have my undying gratitude. Let us continue to work for justice, equity and intellectual freedom in our beloved community.


Lesley Williams