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Build America’s Libraries Act: Advocate for Critical Infrastructure

by Kathi Kromer, Associate Executive Director, ALA Public Policy and Advocacy on March 5, 2021

With increased demand for an array of services, and often fewer resources to provide them, public library leaders across the nation have gone above and beyond the call of duty to continue serving the public over the past year. Our efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. 

On Wednesday, March 3, 2021, Representative Andy Levin (D-MI-9) and 52 cosponsors introduced the Build America’s Libraries Act (H.R. 1581), a companion bill to the same legislation (S. 127) introduced by Senators Jack Reed (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR), on January 28, 2021.  

The Build America’s Libraries Act would provide $5 billion for upgrades to the nation’s library infrastructure to address challenges such as natural disasters, COVID-19, broadband capacity, environmental hazards, and accessibility barriers. Providing a one-time infusion of more than 25 times the current annual appropriations for the federal Library Services and Technology Act, the Build America’s Libraries Act would particularly enable libraries to better serve people in low-income and underserved areas in cities and towns, as well as people with disabilities and other vulnerable library users.  

I echo the words of ALA President Julius C. Jefferson, Jr., who said, “As we move to build back better from the devastating impacts of a global pandemic and related economic and educational losses, rejuvenating public libraries in our most distressed communities must be part of our nation’s recovery.”  

More than 20 library supporters endorsed the legislation, including the National Association of Counties, American Federation of Teachers, and North America’s Building Trades Unions.  

PLA members know better than anyone that America’s aging library infrastructure faces a range of challenges. Health and safety issues linked to mold or new COVID-19 ventilation needs, broadband and electrical capacity, and accessibility are just a few of these. 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. The Build America’s Library Act would begin to address decades of federal underinvestment by providing funds to repair and construct modern library facilities.  

In the coming weeks and months, Congress and the Biden administration are expected to turn their attention toward pandemic recovery and pass a national infrastructure bill. Public libraries must be included.  

I invite you to join our efforts to pass the Build America’s Libraries Act by urging your legislators to cosponsor the legislation. You can send an email to your legislators right now using ALA’s Action Center. Our Build America’s Libraries Act web page offers new resources for you to deepen and expand the reach of your advocacy: 

  • Find out if your legislator has cosponsored the bill with our list of cosponsors, updated in real time. Please send them a note of thanks if they signed on to support libraries.  
  • Watch videos and find our tip sheet on arranging a (virtual) tour of your library for an elected leader, including PLA Past President Larry Neal’s virtual tour for the House bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Andy Levin (MI-9).
  • Share your library’s challenges – and photos – to help ALA make the case for federal support for library construction and modernization, like Town and County Public Library (Clayton, Ala.), which needs a new HVAC system and better accessibility. 
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper using our sample.
  • Follow @LibraryPolicy on Twitter to get the latest updates and spread the word on the #BuildLibraries bill.

As our elected leaders move to modernize our nation’s infrastructure, we have the first chance in decades to expand and improve our facilities for the future. The Build America’s Libraries Act could be transformative, but we must act now.  

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