America’s aging public library infrastructure requires billions for construction, renovation: New data analysis

For Immediate Release
Thu, 05/20/2021


Shawnda Hines

Assistant Director, Communications

Public Policy and Advocacy Office

ALA pushes Build America’s Libraries Act of 2021 to address need

WASHINGTON, D.C. – America’s approximately 17,000 public libraries, which receive 1.3 billion visits each year, need an estimated $32 billion for construction and renovation, according to a data brief released today by the American Library Association (ALA).

Recent public library facility needs assessments in nine states and the District of Columbia show a need of more than $8 billion for construction and renovation. Extrapolating from these states in proportion to their share of the national population, ALA estimates that quadruple that amount is needed for construction and renovation of public libraries nationwide, including repairs to foundations, roofs and building systems such as HVAC and plumbing; updates for greater accessibility and modernized technology infrastructure like electrical outlets and Wi-Fi routers.

“Public libraries have long been roads to opportunity and education, and they are as vital to our nation’s infrastructure as highways and bridges. Libraries are also on the front lines of digital inclusion, but many of them are doing so with twentieth-century facilities,” said ALA President Julius C. Jefferson, Jr. “As it stands now, it will take 25 years just to meet today’s needs.”

The average U.S. public library building is more than 40 years old. At the federal level, Congress has not provided dedicated funding for library facilities since 1997. Inadequate capital funding has made it difficult for libraries to address building concerns.

“We must ensure that our libraries are safe, healthy, and accessible to everyone, not only today, but for decades to come,” said Jefferson. “Federal support outlined in the Build America’s Libraries Act would be a strong start.”

The bipartisan, bicameral legislation (S. 127/H.R. 1581) would provide $5 billion to support long-term improvements to library facilities, including addressing needs that have arisen due to COVID–19, to enable libraries to better serve rural, low-income and underserved areas, as well as people with disabilities and other vulnerable library users.