Cleveland Public Library Hires First Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Ashley Boyd's hire arrives about a month after the CPL was sued for "racial discrimination"

click to enlarge Cleveland Public Library's Main branch. - CPL
Cleveland Public Library's Main branch.

In the midst of its literacy-challenge drive Cleveland Reads, the Cleveland Public Library named Ashley Boyd its first director of diversity, equity and inclusion.

The hiring comes in tandem with another hire, Tiffany Graham as art director. It also comes with a test for Clevelanders to read one million books or for one million minutes. As of Thursday, according to a counter on the project's website, 9,545 Clevelanders have read 42,365 books, tallying 438,231 minutes to boot.

“It is a privilege and honor to join such a storied institution,” Boyd said in a statement provided to Scene. “I look forward to continuing Cleveland Public Library’s mission to be a place where everyone belongs, and cultures are celebrated.”
click to enlarge Cleveland Public Library Hires First Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (4)
Ashley Boyd

Before her hire at the library, Boyd was a DEI administrator of the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities, which she worked for 18 years, garnering roles in crisis intervention and habilitation management, according to her LinkedIn profile. She has a Master's degree in public administration from Cleveland State, along with a Diversity and Inclusion certificate from Cornell.

Boyd's onboarding appears to come at the tail end of the library's three-year effort to ramp up inclusion efforts among its workforce and at its 27 branches across Cleveland.

One aim is to "develop and implement programs and services that incorporate the differences that make us a community," a 2020 document on CPL's website details, "ensuring fair and equitable treatment with access to appropriate resources and opportunities."

Though it's unclear how Boyd will work with Cleveland Reads or its underlying get-your-face-in-a-book mission, it's apparent that the Cleveland Public Library as a whole is ramping up efforts to address the city's deep gap in illiteracy rates.

In 2018, Seeds of Literacy, a one-on-one tutoring agency headquartered in Clark-Fulton, released an updated survey of Cleveland's illiteracy counts as extrapolated from U.S. Census demographic data. It found that, on average, 66 percent of Clevelanders were "functionally illiterate"—which the organization defines as "having math, reading, or language skills below a fourth grade level."

The resulting data map was staggering: several of Cleveland's majority-Black East Side had illiteracy rates as high as 97 percent. (That compares to a rate that tops off at 25 percent on the edges of the county.) It's a data point Seeds of Literacy defined succinctly as "sad but true."

"My expectation would be that someone who's focused on DEI would be focused on equitable access to library resources, especially for those who are underserved," said Carmine Stewart, Seeds of Literacy's vice president of programming.

Although Stewart couldn't confirm whether the 2018 data has held true in a post-pandemic Cleveland, she stressed the importance of keeping literacy programming well-funded and in the public eye.

This July, Stewart said Seeds of Literacy will be capping off an initiative to aid persons struggling with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, comprehend stiff and technical medical language. Seeds is partnering with Case Western to design packaging that is clearer for those at an "eighth grade level."

"If a student is looking for information on diabetes, it's probably not going to be written above their reading level," Stewart said.

Boyd's hire comes nearly a month after the library's former inclusion and leadership head, Twyla Turner, filed a lawsuit against the CPL for claims of racial discrimination, reported.

The suit claimed that CPL CEO Felton Thomas and Community Engagement Director Aaron Mason warned Turner, who is Black, to “watch out” for another employee. That employee, court documents stated,  “did not support diversity, equity and inclusion."

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About The Author

Mark Oprea

Mark Oprea is a staff writer at Scene. For the past seven years, he's covered Cleveland as a freelance journalist, and has contributed to TIME, NPR, the Pacific Standard and the Cleveland Magazine. He's the winner of two Press Club awards.
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