How We Got Here
Main @ 20
Libraries of various stripes existed in Little Rock as early as 1834. Downtown has had a permanent library presence since the first Carnegie-funded Little Rock Public Library opened its doors in 1910. The original public library was constructed at 7th and Louisiana Streets, a building which stood more than 50 years until a new building was constructed on that site in 1964.
By the 1980s, the library system found itself at a crossroads. As the city continued to expand to the west, the cry for branches to serve the new neighborhoods grew louder. However, as each new branch opened, the Main Library experienced a decline in circulation.
"We were dying," said Bobby Roberts, CALS director from 1989 to 2016. "People were just not using (the Main Library). That building – structurally it was fine, it was a big, strong, heavy building. But it was built in the '60s so you couldn't shift the walls around."
Parking issues and lack of physical space led the CALS board to discuss taking action on the matter as early as 1983, but action was stalled by lack of funds and a cohesive plan forward. The biggest issue was the pittance one-mill cap on library taxes that had been in place since World War II.
"If the constitution didn't change, there wasn't going to be any new library unless somebody walked in with $15 million and gave it to us," Roberts said.
So Roberts set out to change the state's constitution during the 1991 legislative session. The result was a constitutional amendment proposal to increase the millage from one to five with an additional three mill to be had with voter approval. The amendment passed in November 1992.