The Naturalization process that provides a path to U.S. citizenship for immigrants serves as a constant renewal of America’s civic life. Native-born citizens who attend Naturalization ceremonies often remark on the pride they feel as they watch the newest Americans take their oath.
Some of those refugees seeking U.S. citizenship will find help at Oklahoma libraries or through the state’s adult literacy organizations. 2021 is the eighth year of ODL’s Citizenship and Immigration Project, which supports local programs that have helped 289 immigrants become citizens since the project began. Fourteen library/literacy programs have received grants since the project began, and these programs have served individuals from 44 different countries.
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.