(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.
The area was closed off for a couple of days, and ODL was unable to get through via phone before Veterans Day arrived, when state government offices were closed. So, we didn’t get a chance to check in with library director La Dawn Conner until Monday, November 14.
“On the whole, we’re very blessed,” Conner said. “It’s just the building we’re worried about. This is a 1939 building, so we’re very concerned about the air quality.”
From the photos the library shared (at left), you can see cracks in the library’s walls, masonry, and floor. Debris rained down from the ceiling and walls. Office furniture and bookshelves were knocked over.
Conner said an insurance adjuster had been in to look at the damage, but engineers have not made it to the building yet.
“We’ve been a low priority because the city had so many infrastructure problems that had to be taken care of first. This weekend, everybody began getting back to normal and have started to ask about the library.”