Oklahoma’s first public library was created in Guthrie, the first capital of our state, 11 years after the Oklahoma Territory was established. Since then, public libraries have continued to support our communities, and especially in rural areas.
Today, all 77 counties have at least one public library, and more than 50% of Oklahomans have a library card. There are 214 library locations across Oklahoma. Half of these are part of a library system, but the other half aren’t. All libraries provide vital services to their areas, but libraries servicing small, rural populations are a true lifeline for that community. Rural libraries serve their communities as gathering places and resource centers. They play a valuable role in rural Oklahoma by offering a variety of free services to the surrounding communities. Libraries in even the most remote town offer the world to their customers through books, free access to Internet and computers, and thousands of reference materials.
Residents of rural Oklahoma are all too familiar with many of the challenges that unfortunately come with living in more isolated areas. Thankfully, local libraries are part of the solution to address these concerns. In areas lacking quality broadband internet, these libraries are often the only free public computer nearby. Oklahoma is one of the first states to have computers for public use, which includes access to the Internet and standard computer applications, in every single library. This access is especially important for people without computers because it allows them to apply for jobs or research valuable information. Libraries also offer a place where students can come study in peace or gather resources for projects, thus increasing our student outcomes. They are one of very few public areas that anybody can utilize.
In terms of funding, rural public libraries receive a huge chunk of their funding from the Oklahoma Department of Libraries (DOL). Libraries that are part of a system receive about five times the funding as local libraries. Since 1967, the DOL has operated as an independent agency with board members appointed by the Governor and approved by the Senate. The DOL provides a number of services to the government, including operating our state library, providing traditional library services to state government employees and hosting our state archives. As the Legislature passes more deadlines and the budget talks take more time and attention, I hope that my colleagues will join me in showing our support to the Department of Libraries and the hundreds of local libraries across our state. As always, please reach out to my office if you plan to visit the Capitol or with policy questions. Thank you for allowing me to represent District 65!
Rep. Toni Hasenbeck, a Republican, represents District 65 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, which includes Caddo, Comanche, Cotton, Grady and Stephens Counties.