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Southern Oklahoma Library System wins state awards

Southern Oklahoma Library staff celebrated awards won with a photo. Pictured (from left are:) Pam Bean, Cherlyn Snow, Gail Oehler, Alyson Blankenship, Stephanie Way and Rudy Ellis.

The Southern Oklahoma Library System (SOLS) was honored by the Oklahoma Library Association (OLA) with two prestigious awards during the annual state conference held this week in Norman. Announced as the winner of the Library Excellence Award, the system was recognized during an awards event at the conference. Additionally, SOLS was the recipient of the Ruth Brown Award which is presented to recognize and support social issue-oriented programs implemented by libraries.
“What an honor it is to be selected state-wide for our efforts in serving the people in Southern Oklahoma with our eight community libraries,” said Executive Director Gail Oehler. “Both of these awards indicate how SOLS is impacting others through programming and services needed to thrive in rural Oklahoma, especially during uncertain circumstances for so many.”
The Library Excellence Award is granted to a library that provides an outstanding level of service to its users over a sustained period of time. The OLA Awards Committee considers all types of libraries including school libraries, public libraries, special libraries, and academic campus libraries for this award. SOLS’ response to its communities during the pandemic was noted as reason for the award this year. The presenter commented on the many virtual programs SOLS offered during the pandemic as well as the focus on serving those who could not get to a library. Moreover, SOLS provided curbside service, remote resources, and a variety of opportunities to engage families during the pandemic.
“We were not going to let this challenge keep us from following our mission,” said Oehler. “Staff stepped up and explored creative ways to serve the public.”
One of those approaches was through virtual programming. In the month of June 2020, SOLS had over 6,000 views of a variety of programs offered remotely.
“We explored and utilized our staff talents to teach, entertain and educate patrons through a production of programs for all ages,” said Oehler. Content included gardening, DIY projects, book clubs, and family game challenges. The system introduced a YouTube channel to its catalog which currently houses content for view. SOLS also added more digital content to OverDrive to serve those who were homebound. Hoopla, which allows users to download content immediately, was another option available for library card holders and has seen tremendous growth today. Staff utilized existing 3D printers to make masks and other needed tools for medical workers and front-line groups that could not find materials during this time.
Addressing the digital divide and lack of connectivity for those living in the rural areas of Southern Oklahoma, SOLS was the recipient of the Ruth Brown Award. Oehler realized that an existing library van could also be used to bring Internet and digital access to a population in need.
Staff has been visiting rural towns in their service area offering Wi-Fi, access to library materials, computer help and more. Especially with shutdowns during the pandemic, those applying for jobs, fulfilling schoolwork assignments, or completing online forms for government assistance were able to do so with Internet access provided by the library.
“Our goal as a public library system is to strengthen our communities with services that reach a multitude of diverse ages, economic status and educational levels” said Oehler. By extending SOLS’ library services to residents, the impact revealed that public libraries promote and advance a variety of social, educational, and economic development options, making significant investments in connectivity for a stronger and more literate society.
Today, SOLS is open to the public at all eight (8) locations. Summer Reading Programming has set new records serving over 5,500 children who were excited to connect with others in top rated educational and entertaining events. Visitors may partake in an array of programs including book clubs, health literacy, 3-D printing, computer assistance, tutoring, and crafting classes. Additionally, the Champion Public Library is a passport facility offering photos and help with processing US passports.

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