The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) announced in early October that $87.8 million from the American Rescue Plan would be dispensed to relieve nearly 300 cultural and educational institutions following a financially devastating pandemic. Now, $82,474 of that will go to Central Arkansas Library System to support Encyclopedia of Arkansas, an extensive online repository for all things Arkansas — from Annie Abrams to Zero Mountain.

The encyclopedia celebrated its 15th year in existence in 2021 and “has seen soaring site visits over the past eighteen months as educators and students have accessed the EOA during pandemic-related virtual schooling,” a release stated. That increase in traffic, the Encyclopedia’s editor Guy Lancaster said, “really drove home for us how much the Encyclopedia of Arkansas served as a democratizing force, making available to everyone with an internet connection information that had previously lain only in yellowing newspapers or local archives. This awareness of the EOA’s potential drives our efforts to expand its contents and increase its usability for all the residents of the state.”

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“Hardly a day goes by that I don’t see a reference to information a reporter has learned from our EOA,” said CALS Executive Director Nate Coulter. “This grant will help us ensure that the EOA remains an excellent online resource available to students, teachers, journalists, and anyone curious about Arkansas and our history.”

The EOA was founded to compensate for the lack of a single, authoritative online source regarding the history and culture of Arkansas, both for students and for teachers of the subject. At its launch in May 2006, it featured approximately 700 entries and 900 pieces of media; at present, it holds approximately 6,700 entries and more than 11,000 pieces of media.

Although designed primarily for use in statewide secondary education, the EOA has attracted a national and international audience, being visited by approximately 150 different countries each month. It has been cited by media across the state, nation, and globe, as well as in numerous scholarly and popular publications. (For example, in her 2020 bestselling book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson refers to the EOA’s entry on the “One-Drop Rule.”) Contributors to the EOA have included students at the high school and university level, teachers, professors, journalists, local historians, government employees, retirees, lawyers, and bestselling authors.

Grant funds will provide salary support for the EOA’s staff historian, as well as paying for stipends to contributors to the EOA and web upgrades to make the Encyclopedia more functional.

The EOA’s entries and multi-media content support the mission of the Central Arkansas Library System, which provides resources and services to help residents reach their full potential, and to inspire discovery, learning, and cultural expression. As a reference work that is continually updated, the EOA connects Arkansas’ past with its present and future.

 

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