The largest public library system in Arkansas, the Central Arkansas Library System serves all residents of Pulaski County and Perry County, including Little Rock, Jacksonville, Maumelle, Perryville, Sherwood, and Wrightsville.
The main Library in downtown Little Rock is the main branch of the system. The Main Library campus also includes the Arkansas Studies Institute Building, which includes the offices of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, and the UALR Center for Arkansas History and Culture. CALS Ron Robinson Theater, Cox Creative Center, and River Market Books & Gifts are also located on the Main Library campus.
The first Little Rock Public Library was one of four Carnegie Libraries in Arkansas. The Carnegie Corporation of New York made a grant of $50,000 in 1906, but increased the grant to $88,100 in 1907. The library was opened on February 1, 1910, at West 7th Street and South Louisiana Street in downtown Little Rock.
Adolphine Fletcher Terry was an early proponent of public libraries in Central Arkansas. Her advocacy led to her being Trustee at what was then-known as the Little Rock Public Library from 1925-1965. In the Library Commission's 1975-77 Biennial Report she wrote, "if you want to start something new, don't hesitate. If you have the proper tools to work with, good; if you have nothing but a forked stick, go ahead anyway. Make your brains provide what you otherwise lack."
Adolphine Fletcher Terry's brother was the noted poet, John Gould Fletcher. His wife, Mary Bosanquet Fletcher, was also a Little Rock Public Library Trustee, as well as serving as the President of the Arkansas Federation of Women's Clubs. Both Adolphine Fletcher Terry and John Gould Fletcher would later have Central Arkansas Library System branch libraries named after them.
The Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) was born of a 1975 merger agreement between the trustees of the Little Rock Public Library and of the Pulaski-Perry Regional Library; the trustees of the North Little Rock Public Library, now known as the William F. Laman Public Library, chose not to join CALS.
Today, the Central Arkansas Library System, with its headquarters at the Main Library, serves a local population of 402,853. Nine of CALS' fourteen branches are located in Little Rock, with additional branches located in Jacksonville, Maumelle, Perryville, Sherwood, and Wrightsville. Through the Gateway Project, residents of Arkansas, Bradley, Chicot, Clark, Cleburne, Cleveland, Conway, Dallas, Desha, Drew, Faulkner, Garland, Grant, Hot Spring, Jackson, Jefferson, Lincoln, Lonoke, Montgomery, Nevada, Perry, Pike, Polk, Pope, Prairie, Pulaski, Saline, Van Buren, and White counties may also access the 1.5 million items in CALS' collection for $54 per year. In 2015, the Central Arkansas Library System welcomed over 2 million visitors, while cardholders checked out over 2.7 million items.
The current Main library branch is part of a complex of renovated buildings in downtown Little Rock. The main library building had originally been a hardware warehouse in the early 1900s. In 1997, the building was completely refurbished as a library. The updated building served as the centerpiece of the River Market District.
Soon after the opening of the Main library, the neighboring property was similarly re-purposed by the library system. The Thomas Cox & Sons Machinery Company's warehouse was from the same time period. CALS opened the "Cox Creative Center" houses a used book and gift store, a coffee shop and bakery, three art galleries, and meeting rooms. The 18,600 square foot building has been renamed "The Bookstore at Library Square."