Public Libraries and Elections

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 services to 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.

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Census 2020: Amid the Pandemic, Oklahoma Libraries Worked to Get the State Counted

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.

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Nationally Recognized ODL Project Moves into Ninth Year with 2020 Grant Announcements

The Oklahoma Department of Libraries (ODL) has awarded 23 Health Literacy Grants totaling more than $161,000 to libraries and adult literacy programs for the 2020-2021 grant cycle. Grantees will use the funds to provide a variety of health and wellness programs for the state’s residents. Programs during the 2019-2020 cycle attracted a record 32,000 Oklahomans, many of them participating in virtual programming because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Each year, grant applicants propose programs to meet their community’s identified health needs. This year’s programs will include information sessions on physical and mental health, virtual and outside exercise classes, cooking and nutrition classes, community vegetable gardens, Story Walks in public parks, and even a bicycle safety and bicycle lending program.

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The 2020 Oklahoma Book Festival has been Canceled

The 2020 Oklahoma Book Festival, scheduled for November 14, has been cancelled by the Oklahoma Department of Libraries (ODL) and festival organizers due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.

Connie Armstrong, executive director of ODL’s Oklahoma Center for the Book, and Vicki Mohr, administrator of ODL’s Office of Library Development, made the announcement in a joint statement:

“This was a difficult decision but we believe it is in the best interest of Oklahoma book lovers. It is simply too risky to have any type of in-person event right now, even with safety precautions. Additionally, we do not feel a completely virtual book festival would garner enough audience participation to warrant the costs necessary to put on such programming. The pandemic is also making fundraising and partner recruitment more difficult for non-profits and community events at this time. We are disappointed, but remain enthusiastic about the future of the Oklahoma Book Festival program. Please look for information in the coming months on a 2021 festival.”

New Digital Prairie Collection Showcases Women’s Suffrage Documents in State Archives

On August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote, was formally adopted into the U.S. Constitution by proclamation of Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby. The amendment was the culmination of more than 70 years of struggle by women suffragists.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of this monumental occasion, ODL’s State Archives division has put together a special collection highlighting Oklahoma’s role in the Suffrage Movement. The Suffrage Collection consists of state government records from the Office of the Governor, Charities and Corrections, and the Legislature. There are 53 items currently in this collection… with more being added!

“Teleworking in March gave me the opportunity to create the metadata for each item,” Archivist Holly Hasenfratz said. “I really enjoyed reading the correspondence (both pro- and anti-suffrage) that was sent to Governor Robertson.”

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