From the Field: Nate Coulter, Executive Director, Central Arkansas Library System
Library Strategies worked with the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) last year. We reached out to Executive Director, Nate Coulter for an update on what CALS is doing in the current moment.
Public libraries are finding their special roles in helping the country respond to the seismic shocks of the pandemic, economic dislocation, and unrest triggered by the murders of African Americans at the hands of police and white vigilantes. The central library mission of helping people meet their needs and overcome challenges seems more important than ever. While assembling people under our roofs is not possible now, “bringing people together” is. We can emphasize community when we promote understanding of the perspectives of people of color and support justice and equality, or when we model public safety best practices by requiring facial coverings and offering curbside service and virtual programming.
As we planned our support of the Black Lives Matter movement, we were fortunate to have the help of our recently hired Community Outreach Liaisons (one liaison for the Black community and one for the Hispanic community). Those liaisons were an expressed goal of our 2019 Strategic Plan facilitated by Library Strategies. We have implemented the first of a virtual learning series for staff called Cultural Conversations, hosted on videoconference through MS Teams. That conversation, focused on Black culture, was a moving experience for our organization as people of color were able to voice thoughts they had never had a space or time to voice in a workplace setting. Key to the discussion was the fact that it was led by people of color with topics suggested by Black staff members. We aim to have the board consider a Diversity Policy and to adopt racial and identity affinity groups in 2020. To support racial justice, CALS also declared Juneteenth an official library holiday to begin next year in 2021. We’re mitigating the pain of the pandemic in safe ways as we provide curbside service and a phased reopening of limited building access with patron virus screening, social distancing, and required facial coverings. Our programmers have created virtual programming that people can enjoy from the safety of their homes. We have provided programming support for a program using empty schools to provide day camp opportunities for children in grades 1-5 whose parents work in area hospitals.
CALS has also partnered with other city groups and nonprofits in an effort to feed those young people in our area who are at risk for food insecurity. As more families suffer the effects of unemployment and schools are closed, these meals are crucial to the health of thousands of children and teens. To date, this initiative, coordinated by our Be Mighty team, has served close to 100,000 meals since the shutdown.