A Message from the Executive Director

Nate Coulter, CALS Executive Director (Photo courtesy AY Media Group)If you are not yet aware, I want to remind you that CALS is on the ballot in Little Rock on November 9. Early voting begins November 2. We didn’t decide where people could vote but it is a reflection of the community’s confidence in the library’s facility that the election commission once again designated six of our library branches as early voting sites. They are Dee Brown, McMath, Fletcher, Terry, Thompson, and Williams.

The library staff and CALS board are aware that things are tight for many households as we continue to recover from the grip that Covid has had on the world for almost 18 months now. The library administration has tried to make cuts the last several years, reducing staff levels when possible and saving money by bringing some work in-house; however, our strategic and financial needs would not allow us to delay the referendum any longer.

CALS has not had an operation millage increase since 2007, yet the library has continued to deliver the value and quality of service expected from a first-rate library system. With the current level of taxpayer commitment, we’ve added two new branches, a theater, and expanded three other branches in the city. A recent economic impact study showed that for the ten years of 2010-2019, CALS has been able to return more than five dollars in economic impact for every one dollar of tax received.

We would like to continue being an integral part of enriching the lives of people in the Little Rock community through not only the entertainment and resources that we provide but also the innovative programming that so many have grown to rely upon. One of the largest drivers of the need for an increased investment in operating revenues is the escalating cost of providing digital content, particularly e-books and audiobooks. The annual cost to the library of providing these has risen from $242,000 in 2015 to $580,000 this year. That’s over a quarter of the budget for materials.

This millage increase, if passed, will result in about a $14 increase in property taxes on the average home value in the city. Just over a dollar a month per household more would mean an additional $2.4 million for CALS’s annual budget. We will spend a third of that ensuring that we have books – popular titles with shorter hold times. We will increase pay to front line staff and programmers who served heroically during the pandemic, providing meals and access to the internet for so many people who were on the wrong side of the digital divide. We will upgrade the technology available in the library and catch up on deferred maintenance to ensure that our branches around the city remain comfortable and inviting.

CALS has also become a hub for aspiring entrepreneurs, a center of learning for students and adults, and a vital means of support to help underserved communities lower barriers. We have created programs and partnerships with organizations that share a part of our mission statement to “help residents reach their full potential.” Through Be Mighty we have been able to partner with other champions to combat food insecurity, including the City of Little Rock, LRSD, and the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance. Together we offer after-school meals and snacks to children in need, with our network of branches serving as distribution centers. Count UP provides students in grades K-12 with one-on-one math tutoring. The Rock It! Lab, our partnership with Advancing Black Entrepreneurship, helps under-resourced entrepreneurs create and grow their businesses.

These are just a few examples of how we are working to have a positive impact in Little Rock and to strengthen the community where we live. Regardless of the outcome of the November 9 election, we will continue to strive to be good stewards of the money entrusted to us. With a modest increase in operational revenues, we can enhance what we offer every day in our buildings, through community outreach, and online to help residents reach their full potential, and to inspire discovery, learning and cultural expression. I encourage you to exercise your civic duty by voting early November 2-8 or on election day, November 9.