Beyond Books: Reed Offers $5B Plan to Build 21st Century Public Libraries, Invest in Communities, & Connect More Americans to Opportunities for Advancement
WASHINGTON, DC – Noting that public libraries provide essential services and are trusted pillars of our democracy, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) is seeking to invest $5 billion nationwide to build and modernize public libraries to better serve communities, boost economic development, and connect more Americans to opportunities for advancement.
Senator Reed is joined by original cosponsors U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) in introducing the Build America’s Libraries Act (S. 127). This legislation would provide $5 billion over three years to build and modernize public libraries, including addressing needs that have arisen due to COVID–19, to enable libraries to better serve and engage their communities, particularly in underserved areas. These federal funds could be utilized to help construct new libraries, build additions, improve accessibility, update technology and broadband infrastructure, enhance energy efficiency standards, and renovate and modernize facilities to better meet the evolving learning and information needs of the American public.
“Public libraries serve the common good. This is an opportunity to build libraries, strengthen communities, and better serve the public in new and innovative ways. Public libraries are a critical component of America’s education network, connecting people to information, technology, and opportunities for advancement. They also provide a wide array of essential services, from programs for kids, seniors, job seekers, and even serve as warming centers during winter storms like the one we’re experiencing now,” said Senator Reed. “This legislation represents a substantial federal investment in community empowerment and revitalization. Now is the time to look to our post-pandemic future with an eye towards building more inclusive, connected communities, and public libraries are essential to that effort. Public libraries generate a tremendous return on investment for the community they serve and the nation. The federal government should seize this opportunity to spur library construction and strengthen these community assets. The Build America’s Library Act can help urban and rural communities alike develop their own innovative plans to build new public libraries or renovate existing ones to expand services and improve accessibility.”
For thirty years, the federal government invested in the physical infrastructure of libraries nationwide, but abandoned that federal program in the early 1990s. The intervening years have taken their toll on library facilities. Indeed, the average library building is now more than 40 years old and many need large- scale improvements and modernization. On top of this longstanding underinvestment, the pandemic has forced libraries to adapt and innovate to meet the evolving needs of their communities despite limited financial resources.
The American Library Association (ALA) projects billions of dollars in losses to libraries over the course of the pandemic, at a time when reliance on libraries from low-income, underserved, and Tribal communities is increasing. The pandemic’s outsized impact on vulnerable communities only heightens the urgency of investing in libraries.
Reed noted: “Libraries themselves are destinations and catalysts for development. Our investment in infrastructure must encompass vital community assets like schools and libraries and not just roads, bridges, and highways. And while we know libraries are more than buildings with books and computers, they are still buildings that must be kept in a state of good repair. Investing in library infrastructure builds stronger communities and supports civic engagement and local economic growth.”
The Build America’s Libraries Act would make $5 billion available over three years to support improvements to library facilities and invest in new library infrastructure to expand the reach of library services and programs. Priority is given to libraries that demonstrate the greatest need and predominantly serve underserved or distressed communities.
The legislation also places emphasis on projects that seek to enhance facility safety, high-speed broadband access, accessibility for those with disabilities, or energy efficiency.
“Library construction funded by this legislation will directly boost our economy by putting Americans to work and strengthening the facilities that connect patrons with educational and workforce training resources and local economic opportunities. Libraries have always anchored our communities, and as such, we should ensure their ability to provide critical services for years to come,” said Reed.
Senator Reed was the lead author of the Museum and Library Services Act of 2018 (Public Law No: 115-410), which authorizes up to $299 million annually through 2025 to advance the roles of libraries and museums in education, lifelong learning, historic preservation, and workforce development. It authorizes federal museum and library programs administered by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), an independent federal agency that helps support the more than 120,000 libraries and 35,000 museums nationwide.
Senator Reed also led the successful effort to include $50 million in the CARES Act for funding through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to help libraries and museums respond to community needs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the ALA, there are more than 16,000 public libraries in the United States.
The Build America’s Libraries Act is supported by numerous organizations, including: the American Library Association (ALA), American Indian Library Association; American Institute of Architects; American Society of Interior Designers; Association for Rural & Small Libraries; Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums; Chief Officers of State Library Agencies; Council of State Archivists; 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.