UPDATE: Late this afternoon, Evanston Library director Karen Danczak Lyons reported that she’d just spoken with Ali Abunimah by phone and that “we’re back on track.” The program has been rescheduled for the same date, August 11, at 7:00 PM in the large community room of the main library.
Danczak Lyons said she anticipates that demand may exceed capacity, and that tickets for the free event will be available at the library in advance; information about how to get them will be posted at the library website. She has also arranged for the program to be filmed, and Abunimah’s book will be available for purchase.
“This will be the first of a series of discussions that we’ll have in the coming months, which was always my intent, because this is an important topic,” she said. None of those programs have been scheduled yet.
The Evanston Public Library became a local flashpoint for the current dire events in the Middle East after it announced on Saturday, via Twitter, that it was “rescheduling” a talk by author Ali Abunimah that had been set for August 11.
No new date was announced.
Abunimah, who says on his blog that he learned of the cancellation when he saw it on Twitter, was to have discussed his book The Battle for Justice in Palestine, published earlier this year by Haymarket Books. He says he’s being censored.
In its Twitter announcement, the library said it would be seeking “more speakers on other dates” to address this “complex issue” before rescheduling.
An e-mail sent last Friday to Abunimah from the library’s director of adult services (Abunimah has posted it on his blog) informed him that library director Karen Danczak Lyons had decided that the library would not sponsor the event since “no pro Israeli speaker” had yet been booked for a talk on another date that would “balance” it. The e-mail held out the hope that the event could still go on as scheduled, if sponsored by another organization.
At noon today the library had no comment but was preparing a statement to put up on its website this afternoon. We’ll update the post at that time.*
*Library director Karen Danczak Lyons has since posted the following on their website:
The Evanston Public Library welcomes all viewpoints and encourages thoughtful discourse and deep conversations on important and complex issues. We actively promote ongoing conversations by creating thoughtful, multi-part programs and discussions to engage citizens on a regular basis.
We uphold the standards of free speech, open access and all of the tenets of the American Library Bill of Rights.
The statement that the Evanston Public Library banned or censored the work of author Ali Abunimah is false. We are co-sponsors of this event and have been promoting this program through flyers, posters, social media and our electronic newsletters.
From the very first discussion about hosting Ali Abunimah, it was our intention that his talk be part of a deeper and broader conversation. This is an intentional approach that we have taken on a number of other topics, including our recent National Endowment for the Humanities funded “Muslim Journeys” series, our current “11 Months of African American History” programming, our current programs exploring “Youth Violence in Chicago”, this year’s upcoming, year long “Hecho in the USA” programming about the Latino experience in the U.S.A, and our current year-long exploration of World War I in honor of its centenary.
The request to reschedule this program was mishandled by the Library. I have contacted the author to discuss with him personally whether he will consider rescheduling this program or is only available on August 11. I await a response from him.
Whether this book talk proceeds on August 11th or another date, the Evanston Public Library looks forward to sponsoring this discussion and continuing the conversation beyond one evening. The Evanston Public Library is the perfect place to discuss and illuminate issues that reflect deeply held personal feelings and points of view, along with important issues that reflect world events.
Karen Danczak Lyons
Director, Evanston Public Library