CALS Awarded Jerry Kline Community Impact Prize

The Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) is proud to have won the Jerry Kline Community Impact Prize. Developed in partnership between the Gerald M. Kline Family Foundation and Library Journal, this national award recognizes the public library as a vital community asset. CALS will receive a $250,000 grant from the Kline Family Foundation and be profiled in the December issue of Library Journal in recognition of the award.

“This is a wonderful achievement for Central Arkansas and our library staff,” said CALS executive director Nate Coulter. “We are enormously grateful to the Kline Foundation. The Kline Prize emphatically highlights the trust our community has placed in CALS, the dedication of our staff that honors that trust, and the effectiveness of our many partners who help us serve our patrons.”

As the largest public library in Arkansas, CALS serves 344,553 people in urban, suburban, and rural neighborhoods. In March 2021, CALS passed the five-year anniversary of the hiring of Coulter, who has prioritized the development of community partnerships to more directly help residents fulfill their needs. One of his signature projects has been to instigate a strategic planning process, which solicited significant community input. The plan, approved by CALS’s Board of Trustees in May 2019, clarified the library’s mission, vision, core values, and strategic goals. The top goal of the plan is increasing CALS’s service to constituents from under-resourced and underserved communities.

Coulter noted that the recognition from the Kline Foundation “affirms the wisdom of our CALS board when it adopted a three-year strategic plan focusing on communities and lowering barriers to resources.”

Recent CALS initiatives include the Be Mighty Little Rock campaign (through which CALS has served more than 450,000 meals from library branches), the hiring of a community outreach team (with liaisons dedicated to our service area’s Black and Latinx communities), the hiring of a social worker to make referrals for patrons accessing community resources, the Rock it! Lab for entrepreneurs, the Count UP math tutoring program, and CALS’s tech card program, which has connected thousands of local students with library cards to access virtual resources from home.

In his letter of support endorsing CALS’s nomination for the Kline Prize, Mayor Frank Scott Jr. wrote that “Little Rock’s vibrant library system impacts our city daily through its community resource efforts for residents experiencing homelessness, through free public transportation initiatives, through job readiness programs, and through hunger relief efforts.”

Mike Poore, superintendent of the Little Rock School District, wrote, “CALS is ‘all in’ and assists the school district on creating opportunities … Tens of thousands of students are impacted each year as a result of CALS being diligent and responsive to partnering with us and sharing opportunities for us to collaborate with them.”

The award comes less than a month after voters overwhelmingly agreed to raise the Little Rock property tax rate that funds CALS’s operations and maintenance.

“Following so closely on the heels of our successful November millage election, where 71% of Little Rock voters renewed their commitment to sustaining their extraordinary public library, this recognition further affirms CALS’s role as a vital community asset,” said Coulter.

The Jerry Kline Community Impact Prize was created in 2019; previous winners include the Sacramento Public Library and Rhode Island’s Cranston Public Library. CALS received an honorable mention for the prize in 2020. All U.S. public libraries are eligible to apply for the prize.

In a news release from the Library Journal, editor-in-chief Meredith Schwartz said “CALS is a great example of the convening and amplifying powers of the library. Engaging in deep ongoing communication with local government and community members creates a mutual understanding of their evolving needs, while building and sustaining robust partnerships that tackle major civic challenges no one agency could handle alone.”

About Library Journal
Founded in 1876, Library Journal is one of the oldest and most respected publications covering the library field. Over 75,000 library directors, administrators, and staff in public, academic, and special libraries read LJ. Library Journal reviews over 8,000 books, audiobooks, videos, databases, and websites annually, and provides coverage of technology, management, policy, and other professional concerns. Library Journal is a publication of MSI Information Services, which also owns School Library Journal, The Horn Book, Junior Library Guild, and AKJ Education, Inc.

About the Gerald M. Kline Family Foundation
The Gerald M. Kline Family Foundation, based in Emeryville California, has provided millions of dollars to philanthropic causes since its inception, with a particular focus on libraries.

About CALS
The Central Arkansas Library System includes 15 branch libraries located in Little Rock, Perryville, and throughout Pulaski County. CALS has the largest research collection in central Arkansas. Most of its more than one million items may be reserved online and picked up at any branch that is convenient to the patron. Library Square, the library system’s downtown Little Rock campus, includes the Main Library, as well as the Ron Robinson Theater, the Bobby L. Roberts Library of Arkansas History & Art, and the Galleries & Bookstore at Library Square.