CALS receives $500,000 from the Mellon Foundation
Grant will support the library’s Memory Lab, Encyclopedia of Arkansas, and Butler Center for Arkansas Studies

Little Rock, AR – The Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) Foundation is honored to have received a grant of $500,000 from the Mellon Foundation’s Public Knowledge program.

The grant – one of the largest in CALS’s history – will build capacity for the library’s Memory Lab, which was established at CALS’s Roberts Library of Arkansas History & Art in May 2022 to give patrons the resources to digitize their family memories, including photographs, personal VHS/Beta video cassettes, and audio cassettes.

“I’m thrilled about this grant, which will allow us to expand our Memory Lab services and help more people organize and digitize their family photos, documents, and home movies,” said Heather Zbinden, Programs & Website Coordinator for the Roberts Library, who has led personal archiving programs at CALS since the launch of the library’s DIY Memory Lab. “Making personal archiving resources more accessible is an important part of preserving family history and Arkansas history.”

This grant will enable CALS to significantly expand the library’s personal archiving and digitization services: CALS will hire a full-time Memory Lab Coordinator; expand the hours of the DIY Memory Lab at Roberts Library to include Saturday hours; expand the formats of media that can be digitized at the DIY Memory Lab; create micro memory labs at nine of CALS’s neighborhood branches; and extend outreach into Central Arkansas neighborhoods to share training and resources with community members so they may organize and digitize their own archives.

The grant will also fund the salary of the staff historian of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas (the most comprehensive single source on the history and culture of our nation’s twenty-fifth state) and pay for website upgrades for digital collections from the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies.

In 2023, the Mellon Foundation launched an initiative to provide support for memory labs at public libraries. In addition to CALS, grantees include the Jacksonville Public Library (FL), the King County Library System (WA), the San Diego Public Library, and others.

CALS is grateful for this generous investment in programming from the Mellon Foundation, which is the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities. This is the Mellon Foundation’s first grant in Arkansas since 2016.

CALS is also grateful to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the DC Public Library for the initial $15,000 grant in 2019 that gave CALS the resources to purchase equipment and start a Memory Lab.

“I am excited about the opportunity to bring memory labs to our branches both within Little Rock and in our two-county service area,” said CALS Regional Manager Joe Hudak. “Local and family history is important, especially for people who are not always included in traditional histories. Putting memory labs in place at branches is an exciting next step in reaching our patrons where they are, promoting and preserving Arkansas history, and providing services that reach more people in our community.”

To learn more about CALS, visit

About The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities. Since 1969, the Foundation has been guided by its core belief that the humanities and arts are essential to human understanding. The Foundation believes that the arts and humanities are where we express our complex humanity, and that everyone deserves the beauty, transcendence, and freedom that can be found there. Through our grants, we seek to build just communities enriched by meaning and empowered by critical thinking, where ideas and imagination can thrive. Learn more at

About CALS
The Central Arkansas Library System includes 15 branch libraries located in Little Rock, Perryville, and throughout Pulaski County. CALS has the largest public library collection in Arkansas, including circulating collections of toys, telescopes, tools, hotspots, and more. CALS also provides a wide variety of programs and resources, such as the annual Six Bridges Book Festival and the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, the only state encyclopedia in the country to be produced by a library system. Library Square, the library system’s downtown Little Rock campus, includes the Main Library, Ron Robinson Theater, Bobby L. Roberts Library of Arkansas History & Art, and the Rock It! Lab, a resource for local and aspiring entrepreneurs.