On June 30, 2020 Carolyn Ashcraft will retire from her position as the State Librarian at the Arkansas State Library. Ashcraft has served as State Librarian since 2005. In light of the ongoing pandemic, the Arkansas State Library is hosting a virtual reception via Zoom on Thursday, June 25 from 1 – 3 pm to honor her upcoming retirement.
Under Ashcraft’s leadership, the Arkansas State Library emphasized the importance of adapting traditional library services to take full advantage of emerging technologies. This approach helped facilitate the transition of Arkansas’ 230 public libraries into the digital era. Notable accomplishments toward this goal include the creation of an E-Rate Coordinator position, a significant expansion of the Traveler Statewide Digital Resource Program, and support of new resource sharing programs like the Arkansas Digital Library Consortium.
The creation of the E-Rate Coordinator position in 2010 saw a significant increase in the number of libraries applying to the Federal Communications Commission’s E-Rate program, which offers discounts to schools and libraries on Internet access and related network equipment. With a dedicated professional to assist libraries’ applications, the total amount of requested funding for Arkansas has doubled to over $1 million annually. The receipt of these funds helps bridge the Digital Divide.
In 2011, the Traveler program was expanded to include remote access to the digital collections for all Arkansas residents. Recent refinements have made it easier than ever for libraries and residents alike to access these resources. The program promotes learning and information literacy across the state. Through Traveler, every library and academic institution in the state is able to provide a core collection of resources to their patrons. This ensures equitable access to high-quality information for every Arkansas resident.
Another significant enhancement to our services under Carolyn’s leadership was the 2018 establishment of the Arkansas Digital Library Consortium (ADLC). When joining the Consortium, libraries pay a relatively small fee based on the size of their service population. In return, those libraries’ users have access to a collection of over 43,000 eBooks and nearly 13,000 streaming audio books. The ADLC currently has 32 member county and regional library systems representing 102 individual libraries. If left to purchase these titles for themselves, each library would have access to only a fraction of the titles they can offer through ADLC.
Ashcraft has been active in a number of state and national professional associations throughout her career, including the American Association of Retired Persons Arkansas Executive Council, American Library Association, Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, Arkansas Distance Learning Coordinating Council, Arkansas Library Association, Association for Rural and Small Libraries, Chief Officers of State Library Agencies, Connect Arkansas and the Institute of Museum and Library Services Library Statistics Working Group.
She maintains a near-encyclopedic knowledge of libraries, librarians, and library history. At any Arkansas Library Association Conference, she can typically be seen sitting in a chair, perhaps in a lobby or reception area, holding forth to a rapt audience with tales of interesting librarians, library patrons, politicians, and other notable figures. Her retirement will leave a huge void in Arkansas’ library community, a void that will affect not only librarians but Arkansas’ citizens.
As a child, Ashcraft developed an early interest in libraries, after a school librarian asked Carolyn to be a library aide in 6th grade. While at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, she again served as a student aide in the library there. In 1981 she entered the profession as a librarian at Grant County Library, and never looked back. Ashcraft served as the Director of Saline County Library from 1986 to 1993, before beginning her employ at the Arkansas State Library.
Ashcraft served in the Library Development unit until 2004, first as a Program Advisor and then as the unit Coordinator. Ashcraft was promoted to Deputy Director in 2004, and later selected as the State Librarian in 2005 following the retirement of Jack Mulkey.