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EL Public Library subcommittee reviewing policies following racial profiling incident

The East Lansing Public Library Board of Trustees sit at a table together.
Arjun Thakkar
The board discussed potential policy revisions and responses following January's alleged racial profiling incident.

A subcommittee of the East Lansing Public Library Board of Trustees is pushing administrators to make the library more inclusive.

The board heard from the subcommittee at Wednesday's meeting. It consists of two board members, Trustee Ameenah Asante and Board President Polly Synk, who are investigating an alleged racial profiling incident and exploring policy revisions.

In January,library administrators called the police on a Black teen who they falsely identified as someone on the no-entry list. That led to a contentious meeting about youth patrons in the building.

Asante said library director Kristen Shelley took nearly a month to send the mother of the teen a written apology.

“We're talking 28 days that a family that is in our community went believing that they were less than, because they received no apology from the leadership of the library,” Asante said.

Shelley said she did apologize to the mother of the teen the day of the incident, but she acknowledged it was loud at that moment and she may not have heard her apology. East Lansing City Attorney Anthony Chubb also interjected to add the city had to review the written apology, which contributed to the delay.

The incident generated scrutiny over how the library has applied its existing policies. Asante asserted the administration did not follow protocol that says staff will not call the cops unless there is a threat, while Shelley said she followed through with the exclusion policy.

Under the provision, patrons who have been put on the no-entry list are considered trespassers if they enter the premises.

Local activist Michael Lynn Jr. was at the meeting. He says library staff should do more to acknowledge their mistake.

“You called the police," Lynn Jr. said. "And that could have ended very badly for everybody. So I think that the Board should be asking you to acknowledge that there's some bias that needs to be worked on This cannot happen. You don't want to have that blood on your hands.”

The subcommittee presented a range of ideas to respond to the incident, including a review of existing programming for youth and considering changes to existing policies.

Board Vice President Amy Zaagman suggested revising the patron code of conduct for the library to issue exclusion letters more directly and ask for identification when necessary. Board members also unanimously approved an extension to public comments, allowing audience members to speak for up to five minutes instead of two.

Some members of the public also expressed support for the library's initiatives. Randy Riley, state librarian of Michigan and East Lansing resident, said libraries statewide are facing issues with either attracting teenagers to their programming or providing them with enough resources.

"East Lansing Public Library is still one of Michigan's top tier libraries," Riley said. "The programming, the staffing here, they do care, they to try to do whatever they can to serve this community. I think in the broader discussion that needs to be remembered."

Trustees said they plan to hold additional public forums and develop a survey to gather more input from community members.

Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
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