By Asia Nail
The Truth Reporter
The YWCA of Northwest Ohio has announced the 2023 Honorees for the YWCA Milestones: A Tribute to Women annual award.
Women on the Rise is the new category added this year by the YWCA recognizing three outstanding young women who are making an impact early in their careers, while developing their potential to become transformative leaders in our community.
If you’ve been to Toledo’s Main Library downtown, chances are you’ve taken part in some dynamic public programming developed by this year’s Women on the Rise honoree, Erin Baker.
Currently serving on the Leadership Team as the Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion for the Toledo Lucas County Public Library (TLCPL), Baker has brought a surge of local awareness that our public libraries have a lot to offer.
At the library you can curl up with your favorite Toni Morrison book one day, bring the kids for story time, or attend a workshop on entrepreneurship the next day, and wrap up the week with an art gallery opening infused with jazz music and spoken word poetry.
“I’m so grateful our management here at the library felt it was a necessity to have a new and separate Diversity, Equity and Inclusion role as a part of the Executive Leadership Team,” shares Baker.
The Library’s mission is to engage all of our communities, inspire lifelong learning and provide universal access to a broad range of information, ideas, and entertainment.
“We started with three committees that planned Black History Month, Women’s History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month,” explains Baker.
“I’m super excited that within the first year of my role as director, those work groups have expanded from three to seven groups with people that all strongly align themselves with their specific identities, cultures, genders, experiences or affinities. We now have strong allies that celebrate diversity not only during holidays, but all year round.”
The Toledo Public Library has been the central hub of activity in each neighborhood for 184 years. With free books, movies, music, and programs for all, it supports children’s literacy, student success, adult learning and business growth, too.
Previously serving as TLCPL’s Coordinator for Organizational Learning, Baker led a system-wide model of servant leadership producing real impact for everyday people in the community. In this role, she created “The BIG IDEA,” a program for library staff to build, improve, and grow in areas of inclusion, diversity, equity, and access.
“Think: raising awareness through courageous conversations,” explains Baker. “Together we are creating a more inclusive culture for both the library and the community.”
A crucial aspect of The BIG IDEA is furnishing the community with resources that educate, challenge and motivate individuals to expand their understanding of our common human experience.
In 2020, Baker received a 20 Under 40 Leadership Recognition Award for her impactful work in this role.
Before her director and coordinator roles at TLCPL, Baker served as the manager of Kent Branch Library, where she led a cultural shift reflected in Kent C.A.R.E.S. – offering community access, resources, and enrichment in a safe space.
As a result, there was greater library engagement overall with over 20 newly developed community partnerships along with an average 30% increase in program attendance, meeting room usage, door counts, and collection check outs.
“It’s our top priority to enhance kids quality of life by focusing on early childhood literacy from birth to third grade,” shares Baker.
Numerous studies confirm that strong early reading skills are crucial for a fulfilling life, rich with promise and choices. So it’s nice to know you always have a safe space at local libraries.
Every person deserves a chance to nurture their dreams and possibilities, but lack of early reading support can limit one’s options, explains Baker.
“We measure our impact on children from birth to third grade through TLCPL’s tutoring, reading programs, and teacher outreach initiatives.”
This work increases the kindergarten readiness assessment rate and the passing rate of the third-grade reading guarantee, building on the library’s commitment to early reading.
Baker also implements diversity and inclusion training programs for staff and the public to raise awareness and drive change. This can be in the form of workshops, webinars, or e-learning modules that cover topics such as unconscious bias, microaggressions and allyship.
“We have hundreds of years of Toledo’s black history housed right here in our public libraries,” suggests Baker. “In a time where many are confused about what history is real, we have a proud heritage archived here in Toledo celebrating all cultures and walks of life.”
As many communities continue struggling in a post-industrial economy, the public library plays a crucial role in connecting people to the organizations and resources they need most.
The library vows to aid adults in broadening their perspectives within their personal areas of expertise. This is particularly refreshing in a time over saturated in youth culture, often leaving older people feeling left out of the mix.
“My work emphasizes diverse pathways to success for everyone. We have after-school programs, strategic partnerships, and even mentorship opportunities for students and adults,” explains Baker.
“Our hard work feels so rewarding when people uncover more opportunities and potential in their lives as a result of the work we do here at the library.”
Serving as chair of the City of Toledo Human Relations Commission and as Co-Director of Northwestern University’s Alumni Admission Council for Northwest Ohio, Baker has a passion for empowering the community at large.
She has more than a decade of experience in curriculum development and facilitation, program design, leadership, public speaking, and community building. A graduate of Northwestern University, Baker earned her graduate degree at the University of Notre Dame.
Baker is also a recipient of the University of Toledo’s Dr. Robert J. Schlemback Award for Loyalty, Dedication, and Outstanding Service when she served as an assistant director for Residential Marketing, associate director for Upward Bound, and assistant director of Sales and Marketing.
Erin Baker is the president of the Toledo Ohio Chapter of The Links, Incorporated and co-chair for the Northwest Ohio Northwestern University Alumni Admission Council. She also serves on the Habitat for Humanity Women Build Committee and is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated
Ms. Baker brings fresh perspectives and ideas to the table, leading to new solutions to old problems. She challenges the status quo and drives change, creating a culture of continuous improvement within her many leadership roles.
Her other current and past community board involvement includes the Arts Commission Public Arts Review Board, Boys & Girls Club Board, Girl Scouts of Western Ohio Women of Distinction Committee, Penta Career Center Advisory Board and Scott High School & Pickett Elementary School Community Hub Boards.
“I’ve been keeping busy,” she says light-heartedly.
“Working with innovative people inspires me to think beyond the limits, I think. Combining our collective strengths is always the best way to create game-changing solutions.”
Baker is ahead of the curve when it comes to her library programming, events and inclusive advancements. With a personal emphasis on diversity and giving, she leverages her skills, resources, and platforms to effect measurable change people want to be a part of.
Congratulations on being honored with the YWCA Milestones award for Women on the Rise in our community.
Your consistent service to others is remarkable and the progress you’ve brought to our city is invaluable. Thank you for your unwavering commitment to education and equality —you’re a source of inspiration for us all.
When asked what being honored by the YWCA means to her Erin says, “I’m so honored to be a part of this multi-generational group of talented women in our community. Representation means everything. Having an award like this that champions and uplifts both established and emerging talent, is showing the next generation they can lead too, and at any stage of their journey.”
The YWCA Milestones: A Tribute to Women Awards Luncheon will be held on March 30 at 11:30 a.m. at the Glass City Center.