COVID-19 has been a thief in our lives. Robbing of us of time, love, livelihoods, and life. It also threatened to rob important State Aid grants from Oklahoma’s public libraries this year.
Let’s do a little stage setting before we dive in further…
For half a century, Oklahoma’s public libraries have been counting on annual State Aid grants to improve collections, purchase technology, sponsor programs for adults and children. Some of our smallest public libraries depend on State Aid grants to keep the doors open for their communities.
The program has also been a powerful tool over the years to promote library development in the state. To receive State Aid grants, libraries must be legally established and have a tax-funded operating budget with paid staff. They must maintain a certain level of local funding from year to year, must be open a certain number of hours based on their service population, must offer public internet access and Interlibrary Loan service, and must have policies and procedures in place to run their operation.
The Oklahoma Department of Libraries has awarded three additional Health Literacy grants for the 2020–2021 round. This brings the total number of grants to 26 with total grant expenditures now totaling more than $178,000. Funds are courtesy of the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Stillwater Public Library will receive $9,000 to provide the Be Mindful course to 200 community members throughout the spring. Developed in Great Britain, Be Mindful is a four-week online cognitive therapy course designed to alleviate anxiety and depression. A University of Surrey study found that the course helped to decrease levels of stress and that the decrease was sustained over time . The library will also use grant funds to purchase hotspots and data plans to allow individuals without internet access to participate remotely during the course. In addition, the library will partner with local mental health professionals to host four online programs for community discussions on coping strategies related to parenting, workplace mental health issues, couples issues, and senior isolation.
Checotah Public Library will use a $4,000 grant to create a Community Garden to promote, encourage, and inspire a healthier lifestyle for area citizens. The library will work with community partners to host a variety of related programming, including gardening programs, a walking class, a tai chi class, healthy cooking and eating programs, diabetes management information, and activities for children.
Mustang Public Library will receive $4,000 to provide seven healthy cooking classes for adults and 14 healthy eating programs for children. Funds will also sponsor a monthly Music and Movement program for preschoolers and their caregivers.
In September, the New York Times ran an Opinion piece on the possible roles public libraries could play to help with the voting process in the age of COVID-19 and a hotly contested election: How Libraries Can Save the 2020 Election. The article argued that, as trusted and safe public spaces, public libraries could serve as polling places, as well as safe locations to drop off absentee ballots.
A librarian new to the state had read the article and wondered what Oklahoma’s public libraries could do to aid the voting process. We investigated. Elections are governed by the states, and in Oklahoma, public libraries cannot serve as drop off locations for absentee ballots. All absentee ballots in Oklahoma must be mailed to or dropped off at the local county election board. (Drop offs must happen by the Monday before the Tuesday election, and mailed ballots must arrive at the election board by 7:00 p.m. on Election Day.) But public libraries in our state can participate in National Voter Registration Day and can serve as polling precincts. Oklahoma public libraries are also serving as places to provide photocopying or notary servicesto accommodate new options for Absentee Voter verification.
In early October, the American Library Association requested information from the states regarding the role of public libraries in the election process. ODL surveyed the community and asked public libraries if they were serving as polling places. We received 71 responses covering 74 public library sites. Here are the results of our survey. Plus, we discovered another library serving as a polling place while reporting on our libraries’ roles during the 2020 Census.
Every ten years, America counts its population to determine where federal dollars should be spent during the next decade. The accuracy of a state’s count impacts how much of that federal pie will flow in. A bad count can cost a state millions of dollars, impacting the funding of necessary services. When America wrapped up its Census 2020 enumeration on October 15, the Census Bureau reported that 99.9% of Oklahomans had been counted, thanks to self-response and Bureau field operations… and LIBRARIES. Read on to see how Oklahoma’s public libraries helped with this year’s count.
America’s libraries were uniquely positioned in 2020 to play their most important role ever in a decennial count of the country’s residents. The U.S. Census Bureau set a high goal for the 2020 effort: 70% of Census self-responses would be online. As dependable providers of internet access, Oklahoma’s public libraries were ready and excited to help their communities get online to complete the Census and assure an accurate count.
The Oklahoma Department of Libraries launched a Census website in the fall of 2019 to help libraries and the public stay up-to-date and informed on preparation for the count. ODL appropriated federal dollars from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to support Oklahoma libraries’ efforts. The funds were used for a “Get Counted at Your Library” initiative that provided promotional materials for all public libraries. The funding also provided 16 grants to help communities target hard-to-count populations and improve Census responses. The agency held a Census Solutions workshop for libraries and literacy councils to brainstorm ideas on reaching hard-to-count groups, developing grant proposals, and identifying local partners to aid the count.