A day ahead of schedule, President Biden yesterday signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021 into law, which, among its provisions, includes billions of dollars earmarked for libraries. Most prominently, the measure includes $200 million in pandemic relief funding to be distributed through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the largest single budget increase in the agency's history.
In a statement, IMLS officials say most of the $200 million will be administered through grants to State Library Administrative Agencies (SLAAs) in every U.S. state and territory.
"This infusion of support for America’s vital community institutions is crucial,” said IMLS Director Crosby Kemper. "The need for access to information for health, job, educational, and unemployment resources continues across the country, especially in communities that were already vulnerable. We are dedicated to reaching those who need this funding the most as quickly as we can, through U.S. states and territories and directly to libraries and museums."
For more details about the IMLS's SLAA funding, check out the state allotment tables.
In a statement, state librarians said the funding provided to libraries will quickly be put to good use. “The funding made available through ARPA will be key to further resiliency and recovery in communities across the United States,” offered Timothy Cherubini, Executive Director of COSLA (Chief Officers of State Library Agencies). “State Libraries diligently put previous funding from the 2020 CARES Act to use quickly and effectively. Their knowledge and experience will prove beneficial in deploying ARPA funds when, where, and how they are most needed.”
Montana State Librarian and COSLA president Jennie Stapp emphasized those sentiments. “Response to the pandemic has required our nation’s libraries to flex their strengths creatively and to go more deeply down certain familiar paths, like providing broad and equitable access to internet and electronic information resources," Stapp said. "And in this time of crisis, libraries are supporting new service models like curbside service and support for remote education and work. Support of core principles such as education, self-empowerment, economic opportunity, and community sustainability have proven to be important guideposts even through the unusual and even dire circumstances of the past year."
In a statement, ALA officials also praised the passage of ARPA and pointed out that beyond the IMLS funding the legislation will make billions in funding available for public, academic, and school library programs, including funds to boost broadband and internet connectivity, one of the most glaring needs exposed by the pandemic.
“Because libraries stepped up, people without home broadband have been able to keep their jobs, students and teachers have continued to learn in a remote context, and seniors and other vulnerable people have safely connected with doctors and maintained contact with loved ones. Now libraries are also helping people register for the vaccine and even serving as temporary clinics," ALA President Julius C. Jefferson, said in a statement. "At the same time, COVID-19 has forced many states and local governments to implement cuts and furloughs that threaten the very services that communities are relying on for relief," adding that ALA has been "working tirelessly behind the scenes for months" to secure federal support for libraries and librarians.
"Transformative library services rely on the library workers who offer them,” said Jefferson. “In many cases, ARPA means libraries won’t have to choose between funding community programs and paying salaries of the professional staff who lead them.”
Among the billions of dollars in library-eligible funding available to libraries, ALA officials pointed out:
- More than $360 billion to state, local and tribal community governments to offset potential cuts to public health, safety, and education programs.
- $130 billion for education costs associated with the safe reopening of K-12 schools; hiring additional staff; reducing class size; modifying school spaces; and addressing student, academic, and mental health needs.
- $40 billion for colleges and institutions of higher education to defray pandemic-related expenses and provide emergency assistance to students, with half the funding dedicated to student financial aid.
- $135 million each for National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities to support state and regional arts and humanities agencies. Forty percent of this funding is designated for grants and administration for state arts and humanities agencies, while forty percent will go for direct grants eligible to libraries.
Meanwhile, ALA last 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 in the House of Representatives last week 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.
In alert to membership last week, ALA urged members to encourage their representatives to take action on the bill, 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.
“We must ensure that libraries are safe, healthy, and accessible to everyone, not only today, but for decades to come," Jefferson said of the bill, in a statement last week. "To solve twenty-first-century problems, libraries need twenty-first-century infrastructure.”