Build America’s Libraries Act

By James Lonergan, MBLC Director

The Build America’s Libraries Act, which was introduced in the U.S. Senate in January by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), and introduced in the House earlier this month by Representatives Andy Levin (D-MI) and Don Young (R-AK), would provide $5 billion to fund upgrades to the nation’s library infrastructure to address challenges such as natural disasters, COVID-19, broadband capacity, environmental hazards, and accessibility barriers. 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.

Funding would be distributed through the Institute of Museum and Library Services to state library agencies (including the MBLC), which would then award grants on a competitive basis to libraries in each state. Funding would be prioritized to libraries in communities with underserved populations, such as high-poverty areas. Eligible facilities under the Build America’s Libraries Act include public libraries, tribal libraries, and state libraries that provide service directly to the general public.

While we don’t know if this bill will pass, either separately or as part of a larger infrastructure bill, or how much we might receive in Massachusetts, we have recently held preliminary discussions at the MBLC about how we might potentially use funds from the Build America’s Libraries Act if it becomes law.

In alignment with our new strategic plan—which includes equity as a core principle–we have discussed using Build America’s Libraries Act funds for single-purpose projects including for HVAC upgrades, ADA access, and broadband/technology, and would focus on our most underserved and disadvantaged communities in the Commonwealth.

Massachusetts is one of 15 states with a library construction program. Given these are one-time funds and we are prohibited from using these funds to supplant our current  Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program funding, we want to be careful not to jeopardize the strong support and funding we currently have for public library construction and renovation in the Commonwealth.

For further information on the Build America’s Libraries Act from ALA, please visit: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/buildlibraries.

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