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.
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.