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Why do we love the library in Central Arkansas? 

A radio show. Tools. Composting. Concerts. 3D printing. Books, too.

YES, READ: But you can do so much more, thanks to the Central Arkansas Library System and the Laman Library.
  • YES, READ: But you can do so much more, thanks to the Central Arkansas Library System and the Laman Library.

These days, Marian the Librarian is just as likely to be helping kids build a pedal-powered compost tumbler or hooking teens up with authors via Skype as checking out books, a "shush" on her lips. The 21st century public library — perhaps inspired by seeing how bookstores in the 1990s became places to socialize, thanks to coffee bars and book readings — is wired, and not just from the caffeine available next to the stacks. It's broadcasting, too: The Central Arkansas Library System recently announced that it will sponsor a radio program on KABF-FM, 88.3, at noon Fridays starting Jan. 8, where it will air Arkansas music, oral histories, recordings of special lectures at the library and news about library events.

Digital reference sources are by now old hat, as are checking out digital books and audio books. You can also download movies, magazines, TV shows and free music. You can get Adele's "Hello" from Fregal or check out an Amy Winehouse documentary from Hoopla with a library card at both the William F. Laman Library's website (lamanlibrary.org) or the CALS website (cals.org). There is so much online now that you can spend all day at the public library and never get out of your pajamas. You even browse what other people are reading at CALS' "Dear Reader" link, and find what's new on the shelves on both library systems' websites.

If curling up with hot cocoa and an audiobook of "The Hunger Games" is not your thing, maybe checking out a map of Main Street in Altus in 1913 is — you'll find old Sanborn insurance maps online at Laman.

Genealogy is hot; the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, a part of CALS' Arkansas Studies Institute, and Laman both have online resources as well as reading rooms, and the Main Library has monthly genealogy workshops as well as quarterly special programs.

The Butler Center at ASI has a vast archive of historical resources of all kinds — including drawings and artifacts from the Japanese internment camp at Rowher, for example — and is the home of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, which one might expect. But it expands on its reference role by sponsoring the Arkansas Sounds music concerts in the Ron Robinson Theater, CALS' state-of-the-art performance, film and Literary Festival venue in the Arcade Building in the River Market district.

Laman and CALS are now in the art gallery biz as well; Laman has two galleries, one at its main branch and one in Argenta, and the Butler Center and Cox Creative Center have galleries galore, featuring exhibits of contemporary art, art from permanent collections and historic exhibitions. The Butler Center has a retail art store as well; Cox Creative sells book-related gifts and used books. You can also eat lunch at the Cox Creative Center, at its Bookends restaurant on the ground floor. Laman Library's coffee shop, Overdue Brew, serves up drinks and snacks on the second floor browsing area, complete with comfortable seating, a view of the grounds and a fireplace (seldom lit because it works so well, spokesman Richard Theilig says).

MAIN LIBRARY: Be here without ever leaving home.
  • MAIN LIBRARY: Be here without ever leaving home.

Want hands-on experience instead of reading a how-to book? You can join one of CALS' Community Learning Courses, which has offered classes in such things as sewing, how to use herbs and spices in cooking, painting, and beer tasting (partnering with Stone's Throw Brewing).

But things really get creative when it comes to programming for children at Pulaski County's libraries. The Hillary Rodham Clinton Children's Library and Learning Center is far more than a place to check out books or be read to, though there are lots of reading programs for tykes (KTHV-TV, Ch. 11, celebrity anchor Craig O'Neill showed up in December painted green and dressed as the Grinch to read to the children). On the library's beautiful campus, there are a greenhouse and garden for kids to mess about in, and monthly cooking classes using fresh produce they've grown. (Right now, kids are making meals with the winter's harvest of sweet potatoes, chard, kale, onions and other cold-season crops.) In July, kids will retrieve honey from the hives.

It's not all Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm over there at the Hillary Clinton library. The library is preparing a studio space with video and music recording and editing equipment and a green screen. There is a theater where the young patrons put on talent shows and do improv; the twentysomethings on staff at the library use their own talents to create programming for the children. That pedal-powered compost tumbler: That's called the Bike Hack, and it's once a month. There are also classes in fine art (on paper and on tablets), fashion design, classes with an environmental spin where kids learn how to take soil and water samples. All the activities are paired, of course, with books. Manager Jennifer Throneberry says the library is a "wonderful place where each person can highlight what they are passionate about."

At Laman's teen center, there's gaming, open mic events, anime, the "Just Dance Power Hour," "Nerd Night," Skyping with authors ... and homework help, too. Younger kids can play with Legos, and the library is preparing a maker space for young entrepreneurs.

It goes without saying that there are plenty of computers for people who don't have them at home to use. And for people who are not online and can't get out, Laman also has homebound delivery by library visitors who come every two weeks laden with books and DVDS.

Coming up next year: The Dee Brown branch in Southwest Little Rock is being expanded to include a maker space with both high-tech features, like 3D printers, and low-tech, like sewing machines, for creative types. It will also have the first lending tool library, for folks wanting to do home repairs but not wanting to spend a lot of money at Home Depot to do so. As deputy director Jennifer Chilcoat says, "You don't need a stud finder every day"; why not just check one out?

CALS, which expanded greatly during the tenure of Director Bobby Roberts, has a new director starting in 2016: Nate Coulter. Laman Library, which expanded greatly under late Director Jeffrey Baskin, also has a new director, Crystal Gates. Stay tuned for even more offerings from CALS and Laman.

Here's a list of Pulaski County's libraries and library branches:

William F. Laman Public Library

Main branch: 2801 Orange St., North Little Rock, 758-1720.

Argenta branch: 420 Main St., North Little Rock, 687-1061.

Central Arkansas Library System

Main Library, 100 Rock St., 918-3000.

Hillary Rodham Clinton Children's Library and Learning Center, 4800 W. 10th St., 978-3870.

Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, 401 President Clinton Ave., 320-5700.

Ron Robinson Theater, 100 River Market Ave., 320-5715.

Cox Creative Center, 120 River Market Ave., 918-3093.

Millie Brooks branch, 13024 Hwy. 365, Wrightsville, 537-3186.

Dee Brown branch, 6325 Baseline Road, 568-7494.

John Gould Fletcher branch, 823 N. Buchanan St., 663-5457.

Maumelle branch, 10 Lake Pointe Drive, 851-2551.

Sidney S. McMath branch, 2100 John Barrow Road, 225-0066.

Max Milam branch, 609 Alpine Ave., Perryville, 889-2554.

Esther Dewitt Nixon branch, Jacksonville, 457-5038.

Oley E. Rooker, 11 Otter Creek Court, 907-5991.

Amy Sanders branch, 31 Shelby Drive, Sherwood, 835-7756.

Adolphine Fletcher Terry branch, 2015 Napa Valley Drive, 228-0129.

Roosevelt Thompson branch, 38 Rahling Center, 821-3060.

Sue Cowan Williams, 1800 Chester St., 376-4282.

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