Jones Library Trustees announce anti-racism policy for the Building Committee

By Sarah Marshall

This week, the Trustees unanimously passed a policy meant to guide the Building Committee as it undertakes its work (pending approval on Nov. 2). Here is the text:

MOTION – The Trustees of the Jones Library publicly announce their intention that the renovated and expanded Library be developed in such a way to assure all members of the Amherst community are and feel welcome, and that all members of the community feel that the Library belongs to them.  Such intention would be realized in the first instance through the work of the Building Committee, which work should be guided by a commitment to antiracism and include the perspectives of marginalized groups.  That Committee’s work must involve an examination of the way different communities in our town use and experience Library spaces and the iconography and representations contained in the Library.  Approved as amended, 6-0-0.

A few weeks ago, Library Director Sharon Sharry discussed, during the recent Cuppa’ Joe meeting focusing on the project, the painful realization that some members of our community do not feel welcome in the existing library spaces. She mentioned that, for example, encountering a large, formal portrait of a white benefactor in the front entry seemed to announce the space as white.

6 thoughts on “Jones Library Trustees announce anti-racism policy for the Building Committee”

  1. While I believe that Meg does the library a disservice by impugning the Trustees’ motivations for setting an anti-racism policy for the new building committee, I wholeheartedly embrace her point that the Trustees should make explicit its strategy for building greater inclusivity, and that this strategy should include staffing/hiring, services/programming, outreach etc.

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    1. Thanks for responding. I very much appreciate the opportunity for dialogue across differences of perspective. Let’s do it more!!

      I did not intend to impugn motives and in fact said “There are clearly very good if naive intentions here.” We often can’t know people’s motives but we do know how actions appear. It was terrible timing and, as you say, absent reference to any of the planning they may or may not have done. I think we need to hear what members of the BIPOC community are thinking and to engage them in figuring out the steps ahead to make our libraries inclusive and welcoming. People who are comfortable in the library find it welcoming. I think that’s a tautology! Let’s have a broader conversation with people who may feel differently.

      In Muriel Spark’s brilliant novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brody, when asked what she thinks of the Girl Guides, Brody replies “For people who like that sort of thing, that’s the sort of thing they like.”

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  2. It is impossible for me to see this on-the-surface admirable statement so horrendously timed — 2 weeks before the contentious library vote -as anything but a political move to build support for the controversial library. I hate cynicism and believe in trying to see good intentions. There are clearly very good if naive intentions here. But why couldn’t they wait until Nov. 3 to make this announcement? And where is the indication that they understand the hard work of making this happen. Where is the plan to diversify the library staff? Where is the outreach strategy to engage BIPOC leaders and communities that so obviously under-use the library? Where is the BIPOC leadership group recruited to plan new programs? The statement, published on lovely stationary like an invitation to a party, says the building committee will work on this — but the building committee is all white people. How could the library leadership have been working in Amherst and paying even a little attention to the courageous cross-race conversations that are underway and to the wrenching and courageous introspection that several of our Town departments are going through, and not see how tone deaf this statement is. Yoo hoo, white people: you don’t start down the road of addressing centuries of structural racism by making self-congratulatory public proclamations.

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      1. Great! And perhaps the configuration of the building committee — for all of the building committees –could be amended.

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  3. A wise move in the true spirit of inclusivity. I believe the Jones has worked hard for years to represent all manner of viewpoints, cultures and lived experiences in its displays – I expect that to continue, and ideally broaden. I hope that’s how it plays out, although the comment about the portrait painting raises questions. Additive is good – let’s see other faces on the walls too. Same with the books: let’s stock more and different books. But let’s avoid removing and burning.

    Presumably, people come to a Library to encounter new ideas, perspectives and histories. Jones Library welcomes all and the new policy nicely underscores this. To see a portrait of Samuel Minot Jones in the lobby of the Jones Library ought not to be a triggering event.

    Tom Porter

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