Booking It: Bibliographic Adventures with the EOA

Late last year, I wrote about how I ended up reading a selection of romance novels and other books of the sort I would not normally read, spurred on by a freelance writing gig. I imagined that these were amusing, one-time ventures, but little did I know what fate had in store.

In early February, the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) was hit by a cyberattack that necessitated shutting down internet access for a few weeks, although it took even longer to restore to CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas (EOA) staff the server that houses the database we use to manage our various editorial processes, among other things. Through a variety of workarounds, and by keeping notes of everything we were doing, we managed to continue to put entries online. As during the pandemic, some staff simply worked from home, at least part of the time, where they could access the internet to keep up most normal EOA tasks. Fortunately, the EOA website, being housed by off-site servers, was in no way affected and could still be accessed by our readers.

With some of our usual processes gummed up, we did find some other tasks we could undertake. For example, I started going through the book collection of the CALS Butler Center for Arkansas Studies on the second floor of the Roberts Library (just one floor down from EOA offices) to look for some novels that might be adapted into short entries for the EOA. Whoever oversaw the building of that collection (I suspect it was Tim Nutt, now at the UAMS Historical Research Center) was very thorough, snapping up whatever cheap paperback thrillers or serial romance novels or westerns based upon dubious historical occurrences might have been in circulation, so long as they were set in Arkansas.

It was quite the education. I cannot honestly recommend The Wishbook Wife, although it was most amusing for my Swedish friends in Little Rock to be informed that there existed a 1992 western centering upon the sins of a “nest of Swedish vipers” based in the vicinity of Perryville (Perry County). The early 1990s were apparently a good year for paperback adventures set in western Arkansas, as the following year saw the release of Runaway Heart, a romance novel featuring some of the same historical characters, such as Judge Isaac Parker.

Those were just two of the books I read while our internet was down. There are many more forthcoming entries in the works, including a horror story about a lake occupied by a people-eating creature and an action novel featuring an immortal libertarian living in the Buffalo River valley who has to attempt to foil a conspiracy to kidnap the U.S. president. I can’t say that any of these were truly excellent books, but it was an interesting diversion, and it was enlightening to see just how Arkansas was used as the setting in a variety of stories by both people familiar with the state and people who clearly had little idea about its history but needed a generic locale of some kind.

But it got me thinking about further ways to expand the scope of the EOA. I’ve noted before how we have consciously expanded the range of our offerings the more we grow, delving especially into highly localized content, with entries on every populated place, no matter how small or short-lived, and entries on every historic property, every Civil War military event, and so much more. I believe that we now constitute a sizeable enough resource that we can expand into more bibliographic offerings.

This goes beyond entries on works of fiction set in Arkansas (although our recent additions include the likes of Donald Harington’s first novel, The Cherry Pit, and the graphic novel Fall Through by Nate Powell). We’ve also been working to include more recent works of commercial nonfiction and memoir (such as The Vapors by David Hill or Monica Potts’s The Forgotten Girls), as well as older sources of Arkansas history such as Arkansas history textbooks from the days of yore. While some older sources, such as various Goodspeed Histories, are now accessible online, students and casual readers may not always be aware of the limitations of these earlier works or exactly what kind of spin on events they advance, and so a critical summary helps students and researchers make the most of these valuable records. I’ve been asking people for their lists of noteworthy early works of Arkansas history, as well as significant (and also overlooked) works of fiction set in Arkansas, and have been recruiting authors vigorously, so expect more bibliographic entries to appear on the EOA soon.

Since the renovation of the Main Library began here in downtown Little Rock, with the accompanying relocation of some of its services into the Roberts Library for the time being, where the EOA offices are located, EOA staffers have been thinking more critically about how we can better serve both our fellow library employees and CALS patrons. Despite the evolution of library services, books still constitute the cornerstone of what libraries have to offer, and so providing more entries on books seems a natural expansion of the EOA’s work. For my part, I’ve been surprised in what I’ve found just through a brief survey of our own collection here, and I hope some of these also prove surprising to you. And if there is a book you believe warrants its own entry in the EOA, by all means let me know (

By Guy Lancaster, editor of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas



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