Cook Memorial library board rebukes ex-president's comments, pledges diversity training

One day after its president resigned over comments and social media posts she'd made, the Cook Memorial Public Library District board on Wednesday formally rebuked those remarks and reaffirmed its commitment to diversity and inclusivity.

Trustees with the Libertyville-based agency also voted to pursue diversity and anti-bias training for themselves and employees.

Additionally, the board voted to review its policies and bylaws and to pursue a survey of how staffers feel about their interactions with trustees.

The decisions were prompted by the controversy around now-former board President Bonnie Quirke's behavior.

Quirke came under fire during a board meeting last week for homophobic comments she made in a speech to a conservative group in 2010, five years into her tenure. The speech didn't cause a stir until a video of it circulated through social media this month.

“The library abounds with the homosexual agenda, especially in the children's department,” Quirke is seen saying. She singled out a picture book in the Cook Memorial collection called “Heather Has Two Mommies” for derision and also said “predators” have taken over.

Racially inflammatory Facebook posts Quirke made also were assailed by patrons and some fellow trustees. Many called on Quirke to step down, and she did so Tuesday.

In her resignation letter, Quirke cited her free speech rights and said her personal positions never influenced library operations.

The board held a special remote meeting Wednesday to address the controversy and to determine what steps to take next.

The resolution criticizing Quirke's comments and affirming the library's mission came first.

In part, the resolution admonishes Quirke for expressing personal views “that are not consistent with the Library's stated mission of inclusion of all.” It also says Quirke's comments didn't match the library's goal of maintaining “diverse and inclusive programming, services and collections.”

The two-page document goes on to say that library trustee and staffers “are committed to maintaining a Library where our community comes together and marginalized voices are recognized.”

Five of the board's six remaining trustees voted in favor of the resolution. Trustee Ann Oakley voted “present.”

When later asked by an audience member why she voted that way, Oakley declined to comment. When asked about the vote by the Daily Herald, Oakley said: “It's time to move on.”

Discussions about training, the bylaws and a possible staff survey followed.

Trustees noted Cook Memorial team members have had diversity training in the past. But Trustee Karen Singer said sessions are needed that “will truly help.”

As for the pending policy review, Trustee Phyllis Dobbs called for the creation of an ethics code.

More than 75 people observed the meeting. Many shared opinions on the controversy and the road forward.

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