The American Library Association this week praised the re-introduction of standalone legislation that would provide $5 billion to support new construction and improvements to library facilities across the nation.

The Build America’s Libraries Act (S. 127), sponsored by Senators Jack Reed (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR), would provide funds to address the critical infrastructure needs of America’s libraries, including needs that have arisen due to COVID–19 as well long overdue improvements needed to "better serve rural, low-income and underserved areas, as well as people with disabilities and other vulnerable library users."

The Build America’s Libraries Act was first introduced by Reed as a standalone bill last December, in the waning days of the 116th Congress. The same provisions, meanwhile, were also included as part of the Economic Justice Act (S. 5065), which would also provide $12 billion in E-Rate funds for libraries and schools to provide home internet connectivity, and would ensure that tribal libraries are eligible to participate in the E-Rate program.

At the federal level, Congress has not provided dedicated funding for library facilities since 1997.

“As we move to build back better from the devastating impacts of a global pandemic and related economic and educational losses rejuvenating public libraries in our most distressed communities must be part of our nation’s recovery,” said ALA President Julius C. Jefferson, Jr., in a statement. “The Build America’s Libraries Act would provide libraries healthy buildings and modern infrastructure to continue addressing the learning deficits and employment challenges so many Americans are facing.”

According to an ALA release, funds provided in the bill could be used for:

  • Constructing, renovating, modernizing, or retrofitting library facilities, including by enhancing facilities to reduce the risk of COVID-19 and vulnerability to natural disasters. * Investing in library infrastructure projects to improve internet access and connectivity.
  • Reducing or eliminating the presence of potential hazards to library staff and patrons, including toxic substances, lead, mold, mildew, and unsafe drinking water. * Making library facilities more accessible and inclusive to people with disabilities.
  • Improving library facilities for the purposes of supporting place-based services or community-based partnerships that provide library patrons with access to educational, workforce, behavioral health, mental health, and social services.

In addition to facing new infrastructure challenges related to Covid-19, the average U.S. public library building is more than 40 years old, ALA officials say, with many buildings in need of upgrades to address issues ranging from broadband capacity, to accessibility and environmental issues. Funding would be distributed to state library agencies through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), with state agencies then awarding grants on a competitive basis to libraries in each state.

ALA is asking library advocates to urge their Senators to join as cosponsors of the Build America’s Libraries Act.

“Communities across the country love their libraries, but we know there is a significant need for new and improved facilities, especially in disadvantaged communities,” said Jefferson. “As the new Congress and the Biden Administration look to modernize our nation’s infrastructure, public and civic buildings like libraries must be included.”