The Howard McLeod Correctional Center, near Farris, is the most recent facility to receive books donated by Southeastern Public Library System of Oklahoma (SEPLSO). On Friday January 13th, Lila Swink, head librarian of the Hugo Library and Margie Jump, head librarian of the Coalgate Library along with Nick White, SEPLSO’s Information Technology support, were on hand to transfer over 1,000 books to the correctional center.
Correctional centers in Idabel, Hodgens and McAlester previously received books. The most recent donation brings the total number of donated books to over 3,000.
SEPLSO plans to donate more books to correctional centers in the area it serves. In southeast Oklahoma, this includes seven counties: Choctaw, Coal, Haskell, Latimer, LeFlore, McCurtain, and Pittsburg. SEPLSO has 15 branch libraries serving these counties, which can be traced in a circle from McAlester to Stigler, Spiro, Arkoma (next to Fort Smith, AR), Poteau, Heavener, Broken Bow, Idabel, Valliant, Hugo, and Coalgate. Other libraries are located within this circle include Hartshorne, Wilburton, Talihina, and Wister. Noticeably missing from the center of this library service area, rather like “the hole in a donut”, noted White, is Pushmataha County, which has never chosen to be part of a library system.
The book donations to correctional facilities began over a year ago. They began when White was called in to help the Broken Bow Library recover from an incident of water damage. A sprinkler head froze during the night, resulting in damage to thousands of books and library materials. The materials were replaced with insurance monies, but to his dismay, the insurance required that all damaged materials be taken or disposed, even books with only slight water damage.
“I’ve been a DOC volunteer for years,” notes White, “the inmates help the community a lot. Any church or government agency can apply for a permit and can get inmate labor to help with approved projects. Most of the inmates are happy to get out and help the community. They like to be busy. I just kept thinking that the guys in the centers sure would enjoy the books and other media I was throwing in the dumpster or crating for the insurance company.”
“Right after that, I got some inmates to help move the Idabel library into a new library building. The guys kept saying they wished they had access to the books they were moving and re-shelving in the new building. When Linda Potts, head librarian at Idabel, realized the men wanted access to books, she allowed me to give the correctional center some surplus books to the center. One thing led to another, and in a short time their center was stocked with donated books and library discards.”
Wayne Hanway, executive director of SEPLSO, and other head librarians got involved. “We started to get to know these guys,” Lee Toliver, Talihina Head Librarian, comments. “They came to our facilities to help assemble and move shelving which saved us expensive labor costs.
Inmates set up books at the McAlester library’s annual used book sale. They helped with the construction of the new Heavener library facility and they also helped move all of the materials into the new building.