The Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) Foundation announced Tuesday that it received a $225,000 grant from the Windgate Foundation.
The grant will support the expansion of the library’s community outreach program, the hiring of two digital literacy coaches, and fund instructors and equipment for visual arts programming offered for free at the library’s fourteen branches across Central Arkansas.
“This generous grant enables us to meet specific strategic goals set by the library board in 2019,” said Nate Coulter, executive director of CALS. “Thanks to the Windgate Foundation, CALS staff will be eliminating some barriers for people on the wrong side of the digital divide, enriching patrons’ lives through art, and extending the educational resources of the library into underserved communities. All of this serves our broad mission to help people reach their potential.”
CALS’s 2019-2022 Strategic Plan calls for major efforts to reach underserved people in the library’s service area. One outcome of the plan was the creation of community liaison positions for the Black and Hispanic communities. Jessica McDaniel and Maria Aguilar have served in these roles since June 2020 and are focused on extending outreach outside of library buildings to ensure community members are aware of resources offered at CALS.
“CALS is making great strides to meet people where they are,” said McDaniel. “Long gone are the days where the library is just a quiet place to read. These generous funds from the Windgate Foundation will allow our outreach team and staff to head into communities with books, programming, and resources, ultimately empowering potential patrons to foster a feeling of ownership in their library system.”
Funding from the Windgate Foundation will also go toward outfitting the library’s outreach van as the CALS Micro Mobile Library. The Micro Mobile Library will be able to provide internet access and printing capabilities for essential documents, among other important services. Funding from the grant will support a large-scale translation project throughout the CALS system in which written materials will be translated to Spanish and on-site translators will be hired for events, as well as be invested in the Millie Brooks MicroLibrary in Wrightsville. The investment will support the branch’s community garden, food pantry, and school supplies and clothing closet.
CALS already provides digital literacy assistance via free, virtual technology classes. However, the library lacks the human resources to offer consistent one-on-one technical assistance for patrons who may not be able to access a virtual class. The digital literacy coaches will be assigned to work at branches where data indicates greatest need to provide one-on-one technology-assistance sessions. The coaches will specialize in providing help with email use, Windows or MacOS use, device use and setup, and using online resources, among other technical assistance services.
CALS has a long track record of providing opportunities for the Central Arkansas community to experience and create visual art. On an ongoing basis, CALS offers programs—both virtually and in person—to teach art-making skills to all skill levels and to foster an appreciation for artwork. The grant will allow the library to strengthen and grow this program, including increasing the budget for art supplies and to hire instructors to teach workshops and classes, including art lessons offered virtually along with free classes offered onsite at most branches.
The Central Arkansas Library System’s mission is to provide resources and services to help residents reach their full potential, and to inspire discovery, learning, and cultural expression. The mission of the CALS Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit, is to provide financial support for the library’s educational and cultural programming for the patrons, communities, and neighborhoods being served by CALS’s branches.
Based in Little Rock, the Windgate Foundation has made grants since 1993 with a focus on contemporary craft, visual arts, education, and addressing poverty.