Q&A with the CALS executive team

Nate Coulter, CALS Executive Director (Photo courtesy AY Media Group)
Photo courtesy of AY Magazine

Nate Coulter, Executive Director
In November, the millage increase was passed; how are you using that extra money? 

We were so pleased that the citizens of Little Rock entrusted CALS with approximately 2.4M annually of much-needed additional funds. This was our first rate increase since 2007. We promised that the funds would be used to help pay our staff a living wage, to invest more heavily in digital services  to address some of the deferred maintenance at some of our libraries. The pay raise notifications have already gone out to the staff and they will realize those deserved increases in their first checks of 2022. We have also started to bring back some digital services that had been previously cut, like Hoopla. And our collections department has started ordering more print and digital copies of popular titles. With maintenance, we have allocated funding toward additional security monitoring at branches and started to spruce up Main so it can again be a fresh, inviting attraction that helps bring people downtown to our central library. 

With strengthened operating budgets, we will continue to expand the offerings that CALS provides in 2022, and look for new partnerships that can extend the impact of the library. We will bring on a Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity officer to further our cultural competency and help ensure that CALS staffing, policies, and collection reflect the diversity of the communities we serve. And I can’t wait to roll out the new studio for librarians and patrons to create content on the 5th floor with our new content creator, Brant’s guidance. We spent 2021 putting a lot of things into motion and now 2022 is going to be a year of accelerating that progress. It will be an exciting year.  


lisa donovanLisa Donovan, Deputy Executive Director of Library Operations and Director of Literacy & Learning
What do you see happening at CALS in 2022 that will have the biggest impact on patrons?

The library has always been a place for everyone, but specifically, we find that families benefit the most from our services with so many programs and services geared toward children and teens. The past few years have been rough on families trying to juggle that work life balance while also surviving a pandemic. One of the biggest struggles that families have faced has been childcare while maintaining a job. We always like to look at what citizens need and how we can help fill that need or step in and lessen a burden. This year we have started a series of day camps that will fall during times that students in the Little Rock School District are out of school but do not align with holidays where parents would have the day off from work. The first day camp will take [took] place January 4 at four of our branch locations. Upcoming camps include a one-day camp in February and a week-long camp during spring break. These camps will be provided at no cost and in addition to serving lunch and snacks, there will be a variety of educational programming to help keep the kids engaged.  

Another big thing for CALS and families is the changes that are going on at our Children’s Library. This past year we conducted a study of the communities surrounding Children’s Library and really explored what those residents wanted to see out of their local library. Our surveys highlighted the importance of early childhood literacy so we will be making it a priority through a whole family literacy approach.  We are also going to rework some of the spaces, both inside and outside, to promote a sense of play and reflect our renewed focus on early literacy. We recently placed a new manager, Shya Washington, who was the manager of Nixon Library in Jacksonville. We’re excited to see how she and her outstanding staff make many of the dreams and wishes of the Children’s Library friends and neighbors a reality. 


Nathan James, Deputy Executive Director of Technology & Collection Innovation
What are you most excited about that is happening at CALS in 2022? 

We have always prided ourselves on staying on top of new technology. Last year, we were able to recognize the need for internet access and meet that need in a number of ways. When we temporarily suspended operations due to the pandemic, we increased the wifi from our buildings so that it could be accessed from the parking lot so patrons could still use those services as needed. And when we first reopened our doors for limited public access, we took measures to allow patrons to use our public-access PCs. As the year progressed, we invested in a large collection of hotspots that can be checked out for two weeks at a time so patrons can take the internet home with them. In 2022, we will add a couple of self-service tablet stations to evaluate how well the technology for managing the tablets between checkouts works; it’s very important that all personally identifiable data be erased after the tablet is returned. We will also add hold pickup lockers, similar to the lockers Amazon uses for delivering packages, to allow patrons the flexibility to pickup requested items outside of normal business hours. 

We will migrate to a new online catalog and fill in some gaps in our digital collection. We are now offering Vega Discover, a new online catalog, to our patrons and it will replace our current BiblioCommons catalog, which will be deactivated in September 2022 . We are working closely with the company that makes the Vega Discover system and have regular meetings to offer feedback and participate in the planning of new features. We even invite all patrons to provide feedback and comments on Discover which we will share during our meetings and which will help make the product better for all libraries which use it. In February, one app that is used for access to our ebooks collection, called Overdrive, will no longer be supported and patrons must use the newer Libby app instead; Libby has been available for some time and many patrons already use it. The Overdrive app will not be available in app stores after February, and although the Overdrive app will continue to work through the end of 2022, if you are still using it, please plan to download the Libby app soon and reach out to us if you need help using it. Speaking of Libby, our patrons now have access to 3,000 digital magazines in the Overdrive/Libby collection! 

This year, you’ll see the return of two digital services we have previously offered. We will begin offering Hoopla again early in the year. Hoopla is a digital content service similar to Overdrive/Libby.  When we offered Hoopla previously, ebooks and digital audiobooks were available through the service, but this time we will not offer those two formats; in many cases the Hoopla titles duplicate what we have in our Overdrive/Libby collection. The Hoopla collection will contain movies, TV shows, music, and what I am most excited about, Hoopla’s excellent digital comics collection.  What used to be called Lynda.com, the online learning platform, will also return in 2022 as LinkedIn Learning. We have tried a couple of other online learning platforms as replacements for Lynda/LinkedIn Learning, but we missed the quality of the content and user experience the service provided. When Lynda transitioned to LinkedIn Learning many libraries, including CALS, were concerned with their privacy policies, but they have listened and we feel comfortable offering this service again.