Central Arkansas Library System, Gwinnett County Library System, Union County Library System Awarded 2020 Jerry Kline Community Impact Prize Honorable Mention

The Central Arkansas Library System, Georgia's Gwinnett County Library System, and South Carolina's Union County Library System demonstrate the focus on equity, social justice, and the health of their communities that has earned them Honorable Mention for the 2020  Jerry Kline Community Impact Prize.

The 2020 Jerry Kline Community Impact Prize has gone to Rhode Island’s Cranston Public Library for its community transformation through deep involvement in the city’s civic life. Out of many deserving entries, three others stood out as well for their imaginative and replicable focus on equity, social justice, and the health of their communities.


NATE COULTER | Executive Director

The Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) “is rewriting our story to be the library they need us to be,” its award nomination stated. Prominent among its new chapters is the Be Mighty Little Rock program, which tackles endemic child hunger through after-school, weekend, and summer meal programs. The library leads the partnership with the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, AdClub, City of Little Rock, and Little Rock School District, which increased use by 21 percent in the first year. When the pandemic hit, the coalition added the Clinton Foundation as a partner and quickly pivoted to seven day a week, three meal a day grab and go service. Over 125,000 meals have been served at branches—half a million altogether.

The library has set an explicit goal of breaking barriers to communities of color. Sometimes these are physical, as in the Safe Routes to Parks project with the city’s Parks and Recreation division, whose goal is increased access to War Memorial Park on the north side of Interstate 630. The interstate runs through the center of Little Rock, with predominantly Black residents to the south and white to the north. CALS is discussing park access with community members and drafting a plan to improve access. The library also partnered with the local transit authority to provide free bus passes to library users 18 and younger for unlimited summer rides in 2019. In 2020, CALS signed an agreement to pilot a “library card as bus pass” program, but implementation has been delayed by the coronavirus.

The Rock It! Lab, an entrepreneurship program for those from underserved communities, will host a 12-week course by a community partner on law, banking, public relations and marketing, business operations, and accounting. Though delayed by COVID-19, the newly renovated space in the Main Library is scheduled to open in late 2020. A full-time employee will assist patrons and develop a self-guided course for those who can’t attend the group classes.

To remove yet another barrier to employment, a legal clinic organized with the Center for Arkansas Legal Services, Pulaski County Clerk’s Office, Arkansas Crime Information Center, and Goodwill helps patrons seal minor criminal offenses from their record.

CALS also hired an outreach coordinator and two community liaisons to build relationships in the African American and Latinx communities. They are spearheading an internal initiative, Cultural Conversations, to promote dialogue and understanding between staff of different backgrounds. The first was held in June. A full-time licensed social worker, hired in 2019, developed mental health first aid training for all staff, who also now receive diversity and inclusion training.

CALS’s work on local history and present equity are inherently connected. A collection of writings and art created by the 8,000 Japanese Americans interned at a nearby camp during World War II serves as a cautionary tale; CALS staff created a curriculum based on it that is shared with teachers and schools across Arkansas. CALS is also conducting oral history interviews with members of the African American community to document their experiences in Little Rock over time, “to lay a foundation for a sorely needed intergenerational dialogue.” For those who want even more local history, the Encyclopedia of Arkansas is maintained by CALS staff and created by volunteer writers using the historical collections.

Photos courtesy of Central Arkansas Library System



CHARLES PACE | Executive Director

Georgia’s Gwinnett County Public Library (GCPL) serves an extremely diverse population that speaks over 100 languages. The library rises to that challenge. “GCPL makes every effort to match the demographic and ethnic makeup of the county in its employee ranks,” the nomination states. GCPL offers tiered English and other language learning programs thanks to that diversity. More than a quarter of public services staff are fluent in at least one language other than English.

To meet the needs of all patrons, and particularly the underserved, the library embarked on strategic planning in 2019 in deep collaboration with the community. But to make sure the input didn’t stop, the library also built the My Big GCPL Idea! portal. Suggestions implemented so far include additional materials by and about people of color and video game creation tools for children.

The library seeks input from staff as well as patrons. Two employee work teams focusing on service to LGBTQ+ and African American populations identified strengths and weaknesses in the library’s policies, collections, programs, and outreach, leading to staff training on diversity and cultural history and an expansion of programming, plus modernization of policies and procedures.

Staff at every level are also deeply involved in implementing those procedures. Applicants are interviewed by a team of frontline supervisors, and since 2016, frontline supervisors also conduct a week of new hire training. For those who want to rise in the ranks, GCPL offers its Leadership Academy, created in 2017, to non-managerial staff who have a bachelor’s degree and at least one year of employment at the library. The nine-month program covers broad leadership concepts, strategic vision, and maximizing personal leadership potential. Participants receive face-to-face time with GCPL’s leadership team and professional consultants. Each presents a brief white paper on an idea to GCPL leadership; those whose ideas are selected for development help lead the project. So far, 20 have graduated, six have earned promotion, and nine have been chosen to lead major initiatives or work teams.

Beyond the library, staff from frontline workers to senior administrators routinely participate in school councils, regional business associations, literacy consortiums, and health and human services committees. These connections lead to deep partnerships on core civic priorities. The library takes the lead on early learning, with the United Way of Greater Atlanta and the Community Foundation of Northeast Georgia, Gwinnett County Public Schools, Gwinnett County Parks & Recreation, Gwinnett Coalition for Health & Human Services, and Gwinnett Technical College. It prepares people for reentry from jail or prison with the Greater Gwinnett Reentry Alliance, a coalition of nonprofits, leading to a grant funded entrepreneurship incubator specifically designed for those reentering the workforce. And it fights homelessness with the United Way and HomeFirst Gwinnett, surveying homeless patrons and connecting them to benefits.

Photos courtesy of Gwinnett County Library System



TAYLOR ATKINSON | Interim Director

Union County Library System (UCLS) serves a small, rural South Carolina county with a shrinking population of approximately 27,300. Nonetheless, by leveraging partnerships far beyond the norm, the library has managed to achieve high levels of service on less than $20 per capita. In 2018 the library used creative funding to renovate its Carnegie building, and in 2019 expanded from one to four locations by partnering with local municipalities to bring micro-branches to each town hall. The municipalities provide space while the library provides staff, technology, collections, and broadband—crucial, since38 percent of the county does  not have internet access. Four further locations are planned for 2020–21, including the county detention center. UCLS is also working on adding sustainable outdoor spaces at each of its facilities in partnership with the Union County Farm and Craft Market and Public Health Task Force to provide produce for those in need, teach gardening and growing food, and provide a natural playscape at the main library.

The library works with more than 55 partners, which provide 30 percent of the operating budget, equivalent to $6.07 of the overall $19.80 per capita. United Way and Union County Workforce Development are located in the main library, and the University of South Carolina, Union (USCU) campus contracts with the system for academic library services.

Almost half of the staff is not on UCLS’s payroll: Of 19 positions, the library funds five full- and five part-time employees. The United Way provides two full-time AmeriCorps VISTA service members and two part-time Americorps Financial Stability Navigators. The library also gains staff through training programs for seniors in partnership with Goodwill and for those with physical or behavioral barriers in partnership with vocational rehabilitation. Up to three part-time work-study students come through USCU, plus a part time social work intern.

Partnerships also provide access to innovative services. Collaboration with Union Medical Center, the Spartanburg Regional Healthcare Foundation, and the Union County Public Health Task Force provides access to health screening and fitness equipment and classes. The library serves as chair of the Union County Census 2020 Complete Count Committee and the Union County Public Health Task Force, which addresses health equity through a focus on mental health and social justice, providing Mental Health First Aid training to more than 100 community members, including the director of EMS, the City of Union police chief, and all library staff. All full-time staff, board members, and facility partners also receive training on equity, diversity, inclusion and social justice.

Photos courtesy of Union County Library System

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Meredith Schwartz


Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Editor-in-Chief of Library Journal.

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