Saint Paul Public Library to receive inaugural national Top Innovator award for work on race and social equity

Date: Oct 24th, 2016

Susan Benton, President of Urban Libraries Council, will present the award to the Library Board and Mayor Coleman on October 26 

SAINT PAUL, MN—Later this week, the Urban Libraries Council (ULC), a national voice for public libraries, will recognize the Saint Paul Public Library as the first library system in the nation to receive the Top Innovator Award for Racial and Social Equity. ULC President, Susan Benton, will travel to Saint Paul on Wednesday, October 26 to present the award at a regularly scheduled meeting of the City’s Library Board at 3:30 p.m. in City Council chambers (15 W Kellogg Blvd.).

“Today’s public libraries are thought leaders, educational institutions and technology centers that play a critical role in building and strengthening the fabric of their communities,” said Susan Benton. “I commend Saint Paul Public Library for illustrating a sustained commitment to creativity and innovation that truly transforms their community.”

The Library launched its initiative in 2014 and has advanced strategies like using a racial equity assessment tool and staff training to address institutional and structural racism as part of a citywide effort. The Library has been a leader in changing practices that may unintentionally discriminate in hiring, promotion, and services. Key elements and accomplishments of the initiative are listed below:

  • Improved recruitment efforts that resulted in 40 percent of library staff being individuals of color, reflecting the City’s population as a whole.
  • Expanded storytimes to 8 other languages, including Amharic, Hmong, Karen, Oromo, and Somali, establishing greater parity with English language storytimes.
  • Instituted annual racial equity plans for all branches, departments, and teams, elevating racial and social equity as a fundamental strategic priority.
  • All staff attended Race: Are We So Different at the Science Museum and talking circles about what they learned.
  • Established the Racial Equity Change Team to advise on annual plan and policies/practices for assessment and surface workplace climate issue.
  • Eliminated library card requirement for computer use because of disproportionate impact on patrons of color.
  • Created a five-part interactive series, Conversations on Race, that challenged patrons to think about bias and institutional and structural racism.

“I am so pleased to see the Saint Paul Public Library recognized for the work it does to advance equity in our community,” said Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. “Our Library is leading the way in reaching and inspiring new audiences while, importantly, evolving its own practices to ensure it remains a vital and creative institution for lifelong learning in the 21st Century.”

The 2016 Top Innovators and Honorable Mentions were announced earlier this month at ULC’s Annual Forum in Kansas City. Award winners were chosen by a panel of expert judges who considered nearly 270 submissions in 10 categories that supported U.S. and Canadian public library programs focused on education, digital inclusion, healthy communities and library operations.


About Urban Libraries Council

Urban Libraries Council (ULC), founded in 1971, is the voice for public libraries and the force that inspires them to evolve. ULC creates the tools, techniques, and ideas to make ongoing improvements and upgrades in services and technology. ULC also speaks loudly and clearly about the value public libraries bring to communities, and secures funding for research that results in the development of new programs and services. And by serving as a forum for library leadership, ULC produces innovative ideas and best practices that ensure community impact.

About Saint Paul Public Library

Saint Paul Public Library connects people in Saint Paul with the imperative and the joy of learning through a lifetime. Saint Paul residents can enjoy free access to technology, books, movies, music, classes and more. We are at 12 neighborhood libraries, George Latimer Central Library, the Bookmobile, and online at