Emergency Rules Save State Aid for Public Libraries

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.

Requirements vary by the type of library (municipal or system) and the size of the population, but a particular library’s requirements make up that library’s Maintenance of Effort (MOE). Libraries meeting their MOE based on the previous year’s data are guaranteed a State Aid grant. Miss the MOE requirements and libraries lose out on State Aid for at least a year.

Enter COVID

When Oklahoma shut down in mid-March of 2020, more than five months remained in the FY2020 reporting period for the state’s public libraries. These statistical reports would determine if libraries met their MOE in order to receive State Aid in FY2021.

It was apparent that no library would be able to meet the hours-open requirement. Some libraries reported their boards were unable to assemble a quorum due to the pandemic, which meant they would miss the quarterly meeting requirement. The shutdown’s economic hit meant cities and towns saw a reduction in tax dollars, threatening library budgets.

To save State Aid, ODL staff drafted, with the board’s approval, Emergency Rules that would allow the ODL Board and State Librarian “to determine when emergency or extraordinary circumstances exist that render a public library or libraries ineligible for state aid funding and the authority to modify the requirements that must be met in order to be eligible for state aid funding.” These rules successfully made it through the administrative process, and on February 18, 2021, the ODL Board implemented them, assuring Oklahoma’s public libraries would receive their State Aid grants.

Because the crisis is not over, at their February 18 meeting, the board also approved submission of Emergency Rules to protect State Aid next year. The Governor approved these rules on March 18, 2021.

How Libraries Used State Aid During the Pandemic

When the pandemic hit, libraries were in the process of spending their State Aid funds that had been approved by the ODL Board in December of 2019. Some of those dollars were spent in response to this new world.

Mabel C. Fry Public Library in Yukon used State Aid to save a staff position when the pandemic led to a city budget cut. Guymon Public Library purchased laptops so patrons could spread out and use the internet while social distancing. Piedmont Public Library acquired internet hot spots to provide to patrons. Miami Public Library purchased new online content to serve their community as well as a digital service to help young patrons track their summer reading. Watonga Public Library installed a COVID shield at the circulation counter to protect patrons and staff, and also brought the online Universal Class service to the community to provide educational opportunities to Blaine County residents.

The role State Aid plays for an Oklahoma public library has always ranged from that “something extra” to help enhance and improve local services, to a lifeline that keeps the library vital in the community.

To illustrate that last point, we’ll let Seminole Public Library have the last word: “State Aid has always been the cornerstone of our local library, but this year with the devastating drop in oil prices and the virtual shut down of what was left of the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has literally been the one steadfast thing we could hang our hopes on while trying to survive.”  

See what all of Oklahoma’s public libraries had to say about State Aid in comments taken from their FY2020 Annual Reports.