Home |  PublicationsEncyclopedia |  Oklahoma Department of Libraries

The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


Oklahoma's official state library is the Oklahoma Department of Libraries (ODL). The agency's missions and goals have grown and adjusted with the times and changes in technology. However, two have remained essentially the same throughout the existence of the agency and its precursors: to serve the legislative and legal reference needs of Oklahoma's government, and to make government information accessible to the public.

ODL can date its beginnings in Guthrie during the Territorial Era. The First Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Oklahoma passed an act, effective December 9, 1890, that provided for a territorial library. The secretary of the territory had the responsibility for the care and custody of statutes, reports, documents, and miscellaneous books belonging to the library. That individual also had to provide a room for the holdings and to keep that room open for the public's benefit. The library served lawmakers as they governed the territory and prepared for statehood. This Territorial Library would also house federal government publications and make those documents accessible to Oklahoma Territory residents. Governor of Oklahoma Territory George W. Steele, serving as acting librarian, received the first book for the library on August 9, 1890. The tome was a federal document entitled Observations Made During the Year 1884 by the U.S. Naval Observatory.

In 1893 the library officially became a depository for federal publications printed by the U.S. Government Printing Office. During the same year the legislative assembly changed the name of the institution to Oklahoma Library and designated that it be located it the territorial capital at Guthrie. Following 1907 statehood the "Office of the State Librarian" was established. Although no legislative act changed the name of the library, the appropriation measure for that year refers to "The Oklahoma State Library." When Oklahoma's capital was moved from Guthrie to Oklahoma City in 1910, the State Library set up temporary quarters in the Lawrence Building in downtown Oklahoma City before moving to the Capitol building in 1917.

Through the years the library has expanded its missions and assumed new initiatives. In 1913 the legislature mandated that materials published at state expense be deposited in the State Library. Legislation in 1978 expanded this initiative to create a depository library system to retain and to preserve state publications for citizens' use. At the turn of the twenty-first century ODL's Oklahoma Publications Clearinghouse also worked to make state government information in digital format accessible to the state's citizens.

The Archives and Records Commission, coordinated by ODL, had its beginnings in legislation from 1939, 1947, and 1953. ODL assists state agencies with their records management needs, and its State Archives Division houses and preserves the important and historical documents of state government (an important distinction from the archives at the Oklahoma Historical Society, which collects and preserves documents from various sources). Since 1978 the State Archives has been home to corner monument records filed by land surveyors from across Oklahoma. More than eighty thousand corner records are on file and made accessible by the agency. This is a unique mission for a state library and archive.

In 1953 the Oklahoma Library Commission, which had been created in 1919, became the Library Extension Division of the State Library. The merger, coupled with the beginning of federal library funding in 1957, gave ODL some of its most visible missions: encouraging the establishment of new public libraries and library systems in the state and providing improved access to information through resource sharing.

Passage of the Oklahoma Library Code in 1967 created the Oklahoma Department of Libraries as it exists today. ODL is governed by a seven-member board of directors appointed by the governor. The director of the agency, who serves as state librarian and state archivist, is appointed by the board.

Through the years federal funds have provided public library construction dollars, a statewide interlibrary loan system, a statewide summer reading program for children, training and certification programs for librarians, and staff to assist local libraries with a variety of issues from collection development to technology matters. During the 1990s ODL began working with Oklahoma libraries to develop a plan to help the library community benefit from new information technologies. As part of the plan ODL uses state and federal funds to purchase online information databases for all of the state's libraries. Thus, a variety of reference sources, including millions of full-text magazine articles are available through them.

At the turn of the twenty-first century ODL was located at Oklahoma City in the Allen Wright Memorial Library Building, named in honor of the Choctaw chief who coined the name "Oklahoma." The agency's law and legislative reference division remained at the Capitol building in the Jan Eric Cartwright Memorial Library, named for Oklahoma's attorney general from 1979 to 1983. Since 1981 ODL has published the Oklahoma Almanac, formerly titled the Directory of Oklahoma.

William R. Young


Seth K. Corden and William B. Richards, comps., The Oklahoma Red Book, Vol. 2 (Tulsa, Okla.: Democrat Printing Company, 1912).

"Libraries—Oklahoma Department of," Vertical File, Oklahoma Room, Oklahoma Department of Libraries, Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma Libraries, 1900–1937: A History and Handbook (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Library Commission, 1937).

Browse By Topic



The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
William R. Young, “Oklahoma Department of Libraries,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=OK040.

Copyright and Terms of Use

No part of this site may be construed as in the public domain.

Copyright to all articles and other content in the online and print versions of The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History is held by the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS). This includes individual articles (copyright to OHS by author assignment) and corporately (as a complete body of work), including web design, graphics, searching functions, and listing/browsing methods. Copyright to all of these materials is protected under United States and International law.

Users agree not to download, copy, modify, sell, lease, rent, reprint, or otherwise distribute these materials, or to link to these materials on another web site, without authorization of the Oklahoma Historical Society. Individual users must determine if their use of the Materials falls under United States copyright law's "Fair Use" guidelines and does not infringe on the proprietary rights of the Oklahoma Historical Society as the legal copyright holder of The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and part or in whole.