Library of Philadelphia picks Kelly Richards as new director after discrimination turmoil

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Librarians of the Free Philadelphia on Friday unanimously elected Kelly Richards, a black librarian from Michigan, as the system’s new president and CEO.

A statement said Richards’ appointment, which was confirmed during a special meeting of the Free Library Board, remains conditional pending meeting standard requirements for City of Philadelphia employees. He would come to Philadelphia after six years as director of the Muskegon District Library in Michigan.

The library system launched a national search for a new director after Siobhan Reardon resigned in July 2020 After years of allegations, it has allowed racism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination to fester within the library’s workplace. In September 2020, Leslie M. Walker, then Chief of Staff, was appointed interim director.

The Black Workers’ Concern for the Free Library of Philadelphia, a group of black employees organized in 2020, asked to participate in the search for the next director, but members of the group said they were left out. However, CBW said in a statement that it looks forward to working with Richards.

“We hope his appointment marks a new beginning for the Philadelphia Free Library as a whole,” CBW said. “We wish him well and are optimistic that open communication and transparency are finally on the horizon.”

Richards, who began commanding the Muskegon District Library, or MADL, in 2015, has taken a zigzag path toward Becoming a librarian, according to a MLive article at the time.

A native of Michigan, he was a police officer in Flint, Michigan, having studied criminal justice at Ferris State University. His second professional career began in Las Vegas in the early 1990s, MLive reported, as a manager in the library’s youth division. He was then recruited to intern in Pittsburgh with E.J. Posey, the first black man to serve as president of the American Library Association.

Richards graduated with a master’s degree in library science from the University of Pittsburgh, and became a branch manager in Las Vegas, where he led several construction projects for the system. Featured in African American Librarians in the Far West: Pioneers and Pioneers, a 2006 book that highlighted black librarians.

He was appointed to an executive position at the Genesee County Library in Michigan before taking over the presidency of MADL, which currently operates 10 branches, a mobile library, and one office building, according to its website.

The Philadelphia Free Library operates 54 branches, which it says serve up to 6 million visitors each year.

Internal controversy in the Philly Library Become common in 2019 When The Inquirer reported that an employee survey was deleted after employees detailed cases of xenophobia, homophobia and racism from superiors.

In late June 2020, as the George Floyd protests erupted in the city and the world, black employees published an open letter calling on the Free Library to address employment inequality, protocol associated with the pandemic, and the Movement for Black Lives Matter. Black employees said they would not return to work in person until demands were met.

in the following month, Instagram account It was launched to allow anonymous sharing of highlight stories within the library system. Six authors canceled events at the library following the allegations.

A union representing library workers Petition to remove Reardon, saying they were met with inadequate health safety measures when returning to work after the COVID lockdown.

After those events, I hired the Free Library Philly Citizen Dr. JA Sims To serve as the first principal diversity and inclusion official.

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