The American Library Association this week praised the introduction in Congress of a bill that seeks to narrow the “homework gap” facing as many as 17 million American students who lack adequate internet access.
The bipartisan SUCCESS Act (Securing Universal Communications Connectivity to Ensure Students Succeed) would extend the Emergency Connectivity Fund with an additional $8 billion a year to libraries and schools for off-campus connectivity for a five year period—$40 billion in total—to continue to provide Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and internet-enabled devices to students, staff, and library patrons.
“Since the dial-up days, libraries across the country have stood in the digital gaps to connect our communities, especially for those most vulnerable,” said ALA President Patty Wong, in a statement supporting the bill. “The promise of the SUCCESS Act means more libraries will have access to critical funding to sustain or initiate broadband equity programs through the Emergency Connectivity Fund. ALA looks forward to swift passage of this important legislation.”
Under the Emergency Educational Connections Act, passed earlier this year as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, Congress provided a one-time $7.17 billion appropriation to connect students and library patrons struggling with internet access issues in the wake of the pandemic. The SUCCESS Act, lawmakers say, will ensure that students who are finally being connected by the Emergency Connectivity Fund are not disconnected once the original funds run dry.
“Even after the coronavirus pandemic finally ends, we cannot ignore a key 21st Century educational requirement—internet access," said Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, one of the bills co-sponsors, in a statement. "The homework gap is an educational inequity that long predates the current emergency, and we need to put the funding in place to ensure no student is forced to sit in a strip mall parking lot, hoping to connect to a local store’s internet in order to finish their homework.”
The SUCCESS Act is the latest in string of pandemic-related funding efforts that could transform library funding in America, including a potential multi-trillion infrastructure package.
Meanwhile, in a separate release last week, ALA officials also welcomed proposed increases in federal funding for FY2022 approved by the House Appropriations Committee, including an increase of $9 million in LSTA (Library Services and Technology Act) funding, the primary source of federal funding for libraries.
The House Appropriations Committee also provided increases for several other library programs, including a $25 million increase for the IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Services, the agency that administers LSTA funding); a $3 million bump in IAL (Innovative Approaches to Literacy) funds; a $37 million increase for the Library of Congress; and $26.6 million more for the National Archives. The committee also included additional funding for Native American libraries as well other institutions that serve diverse populations, including HBCUs.
“Congress is getting the message that libraries of all kinds are key to the vitality of communities,” said ALA president Patty Wong, in a statement. “If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that America’s libraries are nimble enough to meet changing local needs and foster community resilience. Federal support for libraries is a good investment in communities. We look forward to a similarly robust increase for libraries in the Senate.”
This full spending package is expected to head to the House floor in the coming weeks, with the Senate expected to take up its funding bills later this summer.
ALA is also asking for library supporters to continue to push for the Build America's Libraries Act (S. 127/H.R. 1581), which would designate $5 billion in funding for library construction and renovation.
“Even if you contacted Congress in support of this bill a few months ago (thank you!), we still need you to send another message now,” reads an advocacy alert from ALA from earlier this month, “as Congress is making final decisions about an infrastructure package.”