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.
(Editor’s Note: We start you off with a photo from Miami Public Library and an article ODL contributed to the Friends of Libraries in Oklahoma newsletter, and then follow up with links to news stories about how Oklahoma’s libraries and book communities have been adapting during this unprecedented time. We miss you, and hope to see you soon!)
All the Ways to Serve
(A slightly shorter, earlier version of this article was submitted May 5 for the FOLIO Newsletter.)
“Libraries always remind me that there are good things in this world.” —Lauren Ward, American Singer and Actress
When times are bad, Americans depend even more on their community libraries for information, assistance, and entertainment. During this particular bad time—the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent economic upheaval—public libraries across the state and nation were forced to close their doors to the public.
This lockdown and period of social distancing to mitigate the spread of a new and deadly virus has been hard for all public servants, but especially for library staff, who have always been there for their communities when the going gets tough.
Every January or February, ODL Director Susan McVey and Deputy Director Vicki Sullivan head to the State Capitol Building to meet with the Oklahoma Senate and House appropriations committees to report on past agency accomplishments and to answer questions about the ODL Budget Request, which was submitted the previous October.
During the hearing, we share our successes and expenditures in a way to demonstrate the agency’s accountability to our lawmakers and the state’s taxpayers. Some of the information we put together is used by Oklahoma Library Association members for advocacy purposes as they visit with their legislators.
Later in the spring (usually in May), Director McVey heads to Washington, DC with a group of Oklahoma librarians for National Library Legislative Day to talk about library funding and policies with our U.S. Reps and Senators.
On February 23, 2011 in Seattle, Washington, Representatives of ODL attended a meeting at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation along with other organizations to kick-off the creation of Public Access Technology “benchmarks” to help public libraries sustain and improve the information technology services they provide to their communities.
The impetus for this meeting was the Gates Foundation’s decision to end the U.S. Public Library Program, its first major philanthropic venture—a venture that had provided thousands of American public libraries with computers, software, and technology training opportunities. The Foundation would no longer be offering technology grants, and it wanted to provide a way for public libraries to keep marching forward with technology services.
For Oklahoma’s public libraries, State Aid payments can mean everything from enhancing services to keeping the doors open. Although we don’t know what these difficult state budget times have in store for the future of State Aid, we do know what a difference the program has made over the years.
A bit of history…
Oklahoma’s State Aid efforts have been going on nearly 50 years, and the payments have been leveraged to help raise the level of library services across the state.
In the late 1960’s funds budgeted for State Aid were offered to a limited number of libraries through an application process. By the late 1970s, a larger legislative appropriation and a robust State Aid Rules and Regulations policy allowed payments to all “eligible” libraries, which served to increase the number of public libraries that became “legally-established” as part of their local government. These libraries continue to be motivated to meet service criteria based on the populations they serve.
The use of State Aid funds as an incentive for establishing—and then elevating—basic library services has proven successful time and time again. Over the years, the promise of State Aid funding has encouraged libraries to schedule evening and weekend hours of operation, to hire degreed directors, to establish various policies and strategic plans, and acquire various technologies for use by the public—from fax machines and photocopiers to public access internet.