Transforming the Queens Public Library for Black Patrons & Employees
PARTNER: Queens Public Library
SERVICE AREA: ADEI
LOCATION: Queens, NYC
TIMEFRAME: September 2022 – April 2023
Promoting Equity in the “World’s Borough”
Queens, NY, is one of the most diverse places on earth. With a population of 2.3 million, comprising hundreds of different ethnic groups/nationalities and over 160 languages and dialects spoken, it is colloquially known as the “World’s Borough.” Woven throughout is the Queens Public Library (QPL), an invaluable resource for the borough’s inhabitants.
While celebrated, the Library’s incredibly diverse customer base also poses unique challenges. Namely, how can the library address equity concerns for a specific racial or ethnic group while also tending to other groups’ needs? This challenge and more presented themselves when, in 2020, Dennis M. Walcott, President and CEO of the Library, formed the President’s Council on Racial Equity (PCRE) to identify barriers affecting Black employees and patrons—and to determine solutions.
The Approach: Real Conversations, Real Results
We began our partnership with QPL in 2022 to assess the library system’s internal structure and provide recommendations for improving the experiences of Black employees and patrons. To do this we took an on-the-ground approach, seeking to uncover internal dynamics not easily revealed by quantitative data alone. We conducted over a dozen focus groups and more than 70 interviews with employees and customers, along with surveys of both groups, resulting in over 800 responses. Site visits provided consultants the opportunity for candid conversations with employees and customers, as well as the ability to observe individual branches’ collections and displays.
“UPD showed us that we can have small but consistent gains in our goal of equity, inclusion, and antiracism. I believe we are better prepared due to the tools and training UPD provided, and I cannot thank them enough for their patience, guidance, and friendship during this process.”
— Denise Clark, Dir. of Development, QPL
Through our work, we built on five focus areas identified by the PCRE to improve equity for Black staff and patrons. Our proposed solutions span the entire library system and address cross-cutting themes such as communications, funding, collaboration, and cross-team coordination.
Recruitment, Hiring, and Promotion: Expand creative recruitment efforts to find and attract more Black candidates for leadership roles and other underrepresented positions.
Learning and Growth Opportunities: Develop a mentorship program for Black employees to address the specific challenges they face.
Library Services: Increase investment in a variety of programming and services for Black patrons, with an emphasis on partnerships with outside local organizations to provide additional support for patrons with high levels of need.
Collections: Develop a more consistent process for classifying, tracking, and displaying books by Black authors, without losing sight that there is no one size fits all approach for all branches.
Marketing and Outreach: Encourage the Marketing and Communications teams to more regularly visit the branches and communities that the library serves, facilitating a greater connection between their work, branch staff, and patrons.
Our five focus areas to improve equity for Black staff and patrons:
By implementing these proposed strategies, the Queens Public Library sets itself on a path towards greater equity and inclusion for Black staff and patrons. Paramount to the initiative’s success is effective messaging regarding how increased equity for Black staff and patrons will lead to better outcomes for the organization as a whole, and will not come at the expense of other marginalized groups. By addressing the challenges identified and fostering a more inclusive environment, the library will better serve as a resource for empowerment, education, and community support for all residents of the Queens borough.