Oklahoma Public Libraries Continue to Serve During the Pandemic

(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!)

Children’s librarian Judy Beauchamp drew this chalk message on the side of her library. Photo courtesy of Miami Public Library

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.

Ever resilient, many Oklahoma public libraries went to work with the tools they had on hand to serve their areas. Those tools included websites with access to digital reference resources, online magazine articles, ebooks and audio books, and even streaming movies in some communities. Libraries kept their WiFi on so community members could access the Internet in the parking lot. A pandemic in the information age means services can still reach many of the libraries’ customers.

Library staff hopped on Facebook to offer virtual storytimes, book reviews, and tutorials in using digital services. The Oklahoma Department of Libraries created a Virtual Programs page to help Oklahomans find the online programs, as well as a Facebook group for the libraries to share their virtual program ideas and COVID-19 responses with each other.

Information vendors also wanted to help get resources to students and families who found themselves schooling and working from home. ODL added access to these Temporarily Free Resources on Digital Prairie’s Research and Discovery Page. The agency, which serves as a public library for state employees, also rounded up information on the diverse remote services ODL offers to these customers.

Like many libraries and government agencies, ODL also developed a page on Coronavirus Resources for customers. ODL’s page focuses on resources for the agency’s library customers.

Many of the public libraries that were closed kept staff in the building to field phone calls and offer reference services. Library staff in some communities, Lawton for example, were recruited to help with other city services during the lockdown.

Librarians participating in a Zoom meeting to discuss the challenges of the upcoming Summer Reading Program noted the increase in library card sign-ups, as financially-strapped Oklahomans looked for reading and entertainment options for their families.

Miami Public Library made national news on PBS News Hour’s website, where children’s librarian Judy Beauchamp contributed to a list of librarian-approved books for kids, and touted the libraries online and curbside pick-up services. While controversial for some in the library community, curbside services were advocated by many librarians in order to serve those community members who lacked access to online services. The pandemic has put America’s digital divide in the spotlight.

Libraries developed plans to make sure curbside services followed CDC-recommendations to keep staff and patrons safe. When Ada Public Library Director Jolene Poore received city-approval for curbside pickup, she reported one of her staff members was running around in excitement because “he is so happy to get materials into people’s hands.”

We miss our libraries, and our libraries are also feeling loss. For the PBS story, Beauchamp shared a photo of the chalk art she created on the side of the Miami library. Flowers and hearts share the cement canvas with the words “We Miss You!”

“It was meant as a big shout-out to the whole community,” Beauchamp said. “It’s not just that they’re missing us, we’re missing them.”

Here are a few of the library-related news links that have been hitting our inbox the past few months:

March 14: Tulsa County recorded the first positive case of the coronavirus in Oklahoma, and the Tulsa City-County Library System was the first library to close in the state. The closure was to initially last only two weeks. As the scope of the pandemic emerged and state officials took action, all public libraries would eventually close, and remain closed through April.

March 30: Literacy and library communities in Ardmore continue to serve during closures.

April 17: OU Libraries team works to flatten the curve.

April 26: Oklahoma Book Award finalists announced, but the annual ceremony is canceled.

May 3: Tulsa City-County Libraries Sees Increase in Digital Collection Checkouts Amid Pandemic

May 5: In rural Oklahoma, a WiFi hotspot brings a dash of hope and excitement.

May 7: Southeastern Public Library System shares their remote services and plans for reopening.

May 13: Jim Lucas Checotah Public Library opens their Storywalk, an ideal activity in the age of social distancing.

May 19: Eastern Oklahoma Library Systems launches new app and talks curbside and remote services.

May 19: Pioneer Library System’s Summer Learning Challenge looks different during this pandemic.

May 27: Bill signed into law creating ‘Imagination Library’ for Oklahoma children

May 28: Claremore’s Will Rogers Library announces Virtual Summer Reading Program

May 29: Metropolitan Library System Prepares for Phase 2 of Reopening

June 2: Oklahoma Historical Society Research Center reopens with safety measures

June 5: Elgin Community Library Kicks Off Summer Reading Program The library had to make some changes to keep the program going in the age of COVID-19

June10: Lawton Public Library sets June 20 Launch Party for new Storywalk