The American Library Association (ALA) this week welcomed the bipartisan introduction in the House of a bill that would provide $5 billion to support long-term improvements to library facilities, including addressing needs that have arisen due to COVID–19.
The Build America’s Libraries Act was introduced by in the House of Representatives by Reps. Andy Levin (D-MI-9) and Don Young (R-AK-at large) along with 52 cosponsors. The bill seeks to provide funds to address decades of needed repairs, updates, as well as the construction of modern library facilities in underserved and disadvantaged communities. The bill’s Senate counterpart (S. 127) was introduced on January 29.
“The pandemic has highlighted the importance of community places—physical spaces, like libraries, where we can meet, read, and learn together,” said ALA President Julius C. Jefferson, Jr., in a statement of support. “We must ensure that libraries are safe, healthy, and accessible to everyone, not only today, but for decades to come. At the same time, the pandemic has exposed the depths of the digital divide. Libraries work on the front lines of digital inclusion, but many of them are doing so with twentieth-century facilities. To solve twenty-first-century problems, libraries need twenty-first-century infrastructure.”
ALA officials say that the pandemic has cast a bright light on America’s aging library infrastructure. The average U.S. public library building is more than 40 years old, ALA officials point out, adding that Congress has not provided dedicated funding for library facilities since 1997.
In an alert to members this week, ALA urged members to encourage their representatives to take action, either reaching out their House Representatives to support the measure, or if their rep is already a sponsor to issue a note of thanks.
ALA has created a resource on the ALA website to provide more details on the legislation, including a downloadable one-pager, and an opportunity for librarians to share stories of their library facility needs and how dedicated federal funding could make a critical difference.