Forbes Library puts focus on racism, diversity

  • Forbes Library Director Lisa Downing seen in August 2018, says the library’s statement regarding institutionalized racism is a starting point for action. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 8/15/2020 11:44:31 AM

Northampton’s Forbes Library wants to include more diverse voices from the western Massachusetts community with the goal of bringing more anti-racism practices and programs to the library through the recommendations of the Racial & Social Justice Advisory Board, which is now seeking volunteer members.

Marjorie Hess, chair of a separate six-member committee made up of trustees and staff, said the advisory board would be made up of community members, especially people of color and indigenous peoples, to bring more diverse voices and viewpoints to the library’s direction.

“We need a different viewpoint,” Hess explained. “We’re a small committee, a committee of six. We’re all white people. We would like to see more diverse viewpoints expressed in the advisory committee.”

Through the advisory board and the trustee and staff led committee, Hess hopes the library will select more books and programs that promote anti-racism, particularly those by people of color. In addition, they hope to hire and mentor a more diverse staff as well as set up programs that “challenge institutional racism and white privilege.”

Forbes Library Director Lisa Downing said the creation of the committee and advisory board are in response to recent protests around the country against racism and police brutality after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25.

The library previously released a statement supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, voicing its opposition to institutionalized racism and police brutality.

“Black lives matter. The Forbes Library staff and trustees condemn racism and the oppression of people of color in our community and throughout the United States,” the statement reads. “Furthermore, we denounce the legacies of white supremacy, and of murder and racial violence against Black and Brown people, Indigenous people, and People of Color that have permeated this country’s history. Forbes Library will continue to seek out and eliminate underlying structures of white supremacy, and promote racial and social justice in our policies, procedures, and programs. We make this commitment to our community understanding the deep and long term nature of this work.”

The statement is just the beginning, Downing said.

“The real work is in the action and how we’re going to follow through to live up to the statement,” she said.

Downing said the groups will focus on short-term and long-term projects to promote anti-racism at the library.

“I think some of the things that we hope come out of this are diversifying the types of speakers and presentations even further than we currently have,” she said.

Downing believes that the root cause of institutional racism is born from white society and that white people have an obligation to be part of the solution.

“We want to invite people of color to work beside us,” she said. “We want to make a difference. We feel like having people of color can help us, but we’re not going to look to them to solve the problems or come up with the answers, but rather to have a voice and make sure that their needs and interests are part of the conversation.”

Anyone interested in participating in the advisory board can reach Forbes Library by email at or via phone at 413-587-1016. People of color and those with indigenous heritage are encouraged to participate in the advisory group.

Chris Goudreau can be reached at

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