ALA welcomes Build America’s Libraries Act to repair and modernize library facilities

For Immediate Release
Sat, 12/19/2020

Contact:

Shawnda Hines

Asst. Director, Communications

Public Policy and Advocacy

(202) 403-8208

shines@alawash.org

WASHINGTON – The American Library Association (ALA) celebrated today’s introduction of the Build America's Libraries Act (S. 5071) by Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI). The legislation would provide $5 billion to repair and construct modern library facilities in underserved and disadvantaged communities.

“Libraries are working overtime to help communities recover from COVID-19 and meet the increasing demand for services,” said ALA President Julius C. Jefferson, Jr. “We need healthy buildings and modern technology to continue addressing the learning deficits and employment challenges so many Americans are facing. The Build America’s Libraries Act will raise the bar so that all library facilities reflect the principles of innovation, safety, accessibility, and sustainability.”

America’s aging library infrastructure faces challenges ranging from broadband capacity, mold, and accessibility barriers, to COVID-19 and natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires. Inadequate capital funding has made it difficult for libraries to address such concerns. The average U.S. public library building is more than 40 years old. While some have been refurbished, nearly 800 of the libraries financed by Andrew Carnegie more than a century ago are still in use as libraries today. At the federal level, Congress has not provided dedicated funding for library facilities since 1997.

The Build America’s Libraries Act would begin to reverse decades of underinvestment by funding $5 billion of capital improvement projects in libraries nationwide through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).  Funding would be distributed through IMLS to state library agencies, which would then award grants on a competitive basis to libraries in each state. Funding would be prioritized to libraries serving marginalized communities, such as high-poverty areas. Additionally, IMLS would provide funding directly to tribal libraries.

Eligible uses of the funding include conducting facilities condition assessments, needs assessments, and master planning; financing new library facilities; or making capital improvements to existing library facilities, including buildings, grounds, and bookmobiles. Eligible facilities include public libraries, tribal libraries, and state libraries that directly serve the general public.

Improvements to library facilities could include enhancements to protect health and safety, such as preventing the spread of COVID-19 and mitigating risks from natural disasters; upgrade broadband equipment and technology hardware; ensure accessibility for people with disabilities; abate hazards such as mold and lead; and increase environmental sustainability, such as energy efficiency. 

Along with ALA, the Build America’s Libraries Act is supported by the American Indian Library Association; American Institute of Architects; Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums; Association for Rural & Small Libraries; Chief Officers of State Library Agencies; Education Market Association; International WELL Building Institute; National Coalition for History; National Coalition for Literacy; National Digital Inclusion Alliance; National Summer Learning Association; Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition; and Urban Libraries Council.

In addition to the standalone version of the Build America’s Libraries Act, the same provisions were also included as part of the Economic Justice Act (S. 5065), which was introduced Dec. 18. The Economic Justice Act additionally creates programs that could be used to improve school and academic library facilities, provides $12 billion in E-Rate funds for libraries and schools to provide home internet connectivity, and ensures that tribal libraries are eligible to participate in the E-Rate program.

Original sponsors of the Economic Justice Act are Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Mark Warner (D-VA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).