Encyclopedia Of Arkansas Marks 10 Years Of Sharing State's History

May 8, 2016

The online Encyclopedia of Arkansas celebrated its 10th anniversary this weekend. The project was launched in 2006 by the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies and the Central Arkansas Library System. It currently features about 4,400 entries and almost 6,000 pieces of media.

At a reception Friday at the Butler Center, the crowd resembled the encyclopedia itself: a varied range of vital forces contained in one spot. 

David Stricklin, director of the Butler Center, says help putting the various entries together comes from around the state.

"In a sense, it’s crowd sourced because so many people can write for it. As long as they’re willing to go through the process," Stricklin laughed. "Some people don’t like to have their prose edited, or their facts checked."

Guy Lancaster is the encyclopedia’s editor and says he is proud of their achievement, but remains in awe of the project’s durability.

"I’m honestly surprised that we’re still going at the rate we are," he said. "You think, it’s a small state, we’ll cover all of this, but it just seems to snowball and we discover that there is more to tell about Arkansas."

The Little Rock Nine consistently ranks as the most popular subject on the website. Lancaster says many items rank higher during seasons when school science projects are due, during holidays or after an artist or public servant has passed away.

Below the most popular searches, however, hangs a beautiful web of items that speak to the fertile and sometimes strange interests of the state.

"Fungus, slime molds, all sorts of entries on the various duels and feuds," Lancaster said with a grin. "We have a lot of entries of terrible movies made in Arkansas. We’ve got an entry on the White River Monster. I don’t think anyone’s ever found it, but the state legislature set aside a reserve for it."

In his office at the Butler Center, Mike Keckhaver, the project’s media editor, scans through images on his computer.

"All the photographs, maps, audio, video and documents, I did all that," says Keckhaver. “I get to travel around digging through archives and university project collections, and then I get to travel around the state with my camera, taking pictures of historical sites and towns. Yeah, it’s the best job."

At the reception Friday, a new partnership with the Department of Parks and Tourism was announced, as was the now permanent endowment named for founding editor Tom Dillard. Stricklin spoke to the crowd about the enduring legacy of the project and the positive contribution the encyclopedia has made to the state.

"It’s such a great pleasure to be associated with something that is so dadgum good, and to be in the position where people from other states call Guy Lancaster just about every week, and say, ‘We want to do like what ya’ll are doing in Arkansas.’ I like being on the end of that too," Stricklin said to applause.