The universal symbol for libraries is typically an open book. And I understand why, but libraries are so much more than books. When I think of the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS), the imagery from this old Coca-Cola commercial called “Hilltop” (with the song “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing”) immediately comes to mind. I realize I’m dating myself here, but for those unfamiliar with this ’70s ad, it featured young people of various ethnicities and backgrounds coming together on the top of a hill with the hope of creating a more connected and better world. And that’s the way I see CALS — as a symbol, hub or conduit of hope. Libraries don’t just connect people to books and information; they provide access to resources, services and spaces that help enable people to develop and evolve into their best selves.
As a young mother, I would take my children to the library for storytime every Saturday morning. While the stories were important, the visits — the experiences of interacting with living artists and patrons from all walks of life — are what enriched our lives the most. Throughout every stage of my children’s lives, CALS was there to provide invaluable opportunities that encouraged and supported their growth. For instance, because of CALS’s intentional programming and community engagement, my daughter, Jamee, not only learned what a teen poet laureate was, she became one.
Years later, when it was time for her to enter the workforce, CALS provided her with an opportunity to gain work experience. With her being a writer and communication major, I expected that meeting authors and attending special events would be the highlight of her job. It wasn’t. Serving meals, preparing activity kits, assisting patrons with their SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) applications, teaching health and nutrition classes, and learning about all the different ways the library partners with various schools and community organizations to take care of the needs of Central Arkansas residents were the things she came home eager to share each evening. She often spoke about how much she enjoyed seeing the excitement on the kids’ faces when she told them about the beehive, the cool scavenger hunt around the garden or the weekly reading sessions they could sign up for to read to doggies (Tales and Tails)! And her eyes would always beam with pride when she discussed the growth of the gardening club and how awesome it was to see the free vegetables being given away each week. I’ll never forget the day she came home and said, “I’ve always been passionate about my activism, but CALS truly opened my eyes to other important issues to advocate and fight for.”
The special election in Little Rock on Nov. 9 is about fighting for CALS. It’s an opportunity to help CALS continue to devote resources to programs and services that our community needs. I will be voting YES not just to show my gratitude for the things outlined above, but also because I know that for roughly an extra dollar a month in property taxes, CALS can continue to say YES to literacy and math tutoring for children; YES to life-skills training and learning programs like coding, technology, workforce development, job hunting and entrepreneurship; YES to social work services for local schools and teachers; YES to more books on more platforms and YES to maintaining our libraries as a safe and productive after-school venue for children.
Above all, I am voting YES because even in a time of economic stress, uncertainty and a global pandemic (and not having an increase in its operating tax rate since 2007), as a board member, I have seen firsthand how hard CALS has worked to find innovative ways to say YES over and over to the community by continuing to be our symbol, hub and conduit of hope in trying times. So, join me by voting YES at the special election on Nov. 9.
Stacey McAdoo, the 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, is the state director for Teach Plus Arkansas. She’s also a member of the CALS Board of Directors.