With three weeks before Congress breaks for its scheduled August recess, library supporters are ramping up their efforts to ensure that public libraries are included in a second round of coronavirus relief, urging librarians and library users to go to bat for the recently introduced Library Stabilization Fund Act (LSFA).
The LSFA, introduced on July 2 by Rhode Island Democratic Senator Jack Reed and Michigan Democratic Congressman Andy Levin, would authorize $2 billion in federal support for libraries, and comes as the Senate has finally begun discussions on what ALA officials believe will be its final relief package of 2020.
Specifically, the LSFA would authorize $1.7 billion to be distributed to local libraries through state library agencies, via the IMLS, with a minimum of $10 million in library funding going to each state based on population. It also sets aside $45 million for formula grants to Tribal libraries; $200 million in competitive grants to “strengthen library services to communities affected by Covid-19,” and another $40 million for IMLS to “administer grants and conduct research and data collection" related to the impacts of COVID-19.
“Local budget shortfalls have left libraries to grapple with severe cuts, furloughs of staff, and reduced operations just when communities need their services the most," Senator Reed said in introducing the bill. "This legislation will help ensure libraries can safely weather COVID-19 and continue to find new ways to bridge the digital divide and safely provide information, books, programming, and services that people of all ages need to stay engaged and informed. This is a smart investment in our libraries to keep people and communities connected and contribute to our economic recovery.”
The proposal comes as various other bills look to provide funding for internet access and digital services, including The HEROES Act, which includes $2 billion for hotspots and other devices for library patrons and students; The Moving Forward Act, a $1.5 billion infrastructure bill passed in the House in June, which includes provisions to support digital literacy training, devices, wider broadband adoption, as well as funding for “hotspot and device lending” by libraries; the Accessible Affordable Internet for All Act, introduced in late June by House Majority Whip James Clyburn with a companion bill in the Senate introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar; and a pledge by Senators Joe Manchin and Susan Collins to introduce the HOTSPOTS Act, which would provide $160 million to state library agencies, administered through IMLS, for “a hotspot pilot program.”
ALA and library supporters strongly back legislation to expand access to digital resources and broadband, but ALA officials note that the LSFA recognizes and supports the vital role physical libraries—and more importantly, librarians and library staff—play in our community, roles that are severely threatened as the local tax revenues public libraries depend on are ravaged by the Covid-19 crisis.
“While ALA supports solutions to the digital gap that include libraries, we also know that access to broadband depends on the thousands of library staff who deliver service,” ALA officials wrote in an update published this week in American Libraries. “Senator Reed and Rep. Levin recognize the importance of dedicated library funding to accelerate community recovery efforts. The Senate HOTSPOTS Act, together with LSFA, would bridge the nation’s widening digital gap with support for the libraries—and library workers—who deliver the service.”
ALA is now asking all members and library supporters to call and email their members of Congress to urge them to cosponsor the LSFA. Additional resources—including a one-page explainer on LSFA, sample social media posts, and a sample letter for state and local library associations/ boards of trustees—are available on the ALA site.
“With just a few weeks left before Congress’s August recess, the self-imposed target for the Senate to complete its COVID-19 relief package, library advocates have a limited window of opportunity to ensure emergency funding includes libraries,” wrote Kathi Kromer, associate executive director of the ALA’s Public Policy and Advocacy Office, in an American Libraries editorial.
“At a time when budgets of local governments have been decimated, America can’t afford to dismiss a national infrastructure of 117,000 libraries nimble enough to offer relief and advance recovery," said American Library Association President Julius Jefferson Jr., in a statement. "The Library Stabilization Fund Act is the comprehensive federal response needed to keep our nation’s libraries safely in operation, and ALA is throwing the full weight of our advocacy network into supporting the bill. ALA applauds Senator Reed’s leadership in recognizing that the library services Americans rely on are utterly dependent on library funding.”