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.
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.
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.