A Word from the Roberts Library: Changes…

I’m writing this on October 1, the first anniversary of the day I acquired the title of manager at the CALS Roberts Library. I knew that the work would present challenges. I didn’t expect, however, that more challenges than ever would come from outside the building, the system, the city, the state, and the country.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in these circumstances, it’s to appreciate the flexibility of my coworkers. The Roberts Library was already changing as I moved into my new role; we were streamlining staff and focusing our collection development and programming on the Central Arkansas area. We were slowing down our book publishing efforts. We had changed the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas’s website, which affects how parts of it function for staff as well as for the public.

With the arrival of COVID-19, even more had to change. We couldn’t see our patrons in person; we couldn’t even touch the items in our collections for several weeks. Habits changed quickly: no handshakes or hugs, and no touching our faces. We picked out a handwashing song; we spent hours in front of webinars. Staff began answering patrons’ questions on our personal laptops and phones. Some learned how to present our regular programs on Zoom and on Facebook. (Check out the CALS YouTube channel for some of the many programs we’ve presented in the last six months.) We also have some more things coming up that you can enjoy from home, including oral history workshops (more info. here) and a novel-writing workshop (more info. here).

We learned many new words about virtual work and skills on our computers, and we learned how to point our cameras away from the dog or the ceiling. Eventually we started coming into the building to answer phones and help patrons using our collections again.

Finally we started allowing patrons back in the building, a few at a time. The beautiful art exhibition from the Mid-Southern Watercolorists that was to open the day we closed in March was finally available late this summer for the public to see in person.

Mid-Southern Watercolorists: Tricolored Heron by Margaret Harrell of Mountain View, AR

Through all of this, CALS and Roberts Library staff adapted to the changes. CALS IT staff helped us connect our home computers to the computers on our work desks so we could keep working. Patience was a necessity, and Roberts staff dug deep and found it! The purchasing department found plexiglass shields to help us protect ourselves and patrons. Housekeeping continues to take good care of us. Our staff has learned to work the flexible hours we’re open. We’re changing those again, and our staff is stepping up and taking on new roles as we begin allowing greater access to the building and materials. We have a new exhibition of Native American ledger art in the West Gallery that will be up through November.


We’ll see more changes at the end of the year. The Bookstore at Library Square will move in and join forces with the Galleries at Library Square to become an as-yet-unnamed retail giant at Library Square.

I feel very fortunate to work in the Roberts Library. Our ceilings are high and our rooms are very spacious. Our staff is conscientious and careful with each other and with patrons. And our patrons are the best! I hope more of you come see us.

Thank you all for taking care of yourselves. Till next time—


By Glenn Whaley, manager of the CALS Bobby L. Roberts Library of Arkansas History & Art




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