Library Stabilization Fund Act Seeks $2 Billion for Pandemic Losses, Reopening Costs, and More

On July 2, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI) introduced the bipartisan Library Stabilization Fund Act in both chambers (S.4181 and H.R.7486, respectively). The legislation, introduced with 13 cosponsors on both sides of the aisle in the Senate and 27 in the House, would establish a dedicated $2 billion fund to be administered by IMLS that would address the financial losses incurred in the pandemic shutdown and bolster library services going forward, with priority given to the hardest-hit communities.

exterior of U.S. Capitol building against blue sky
Photo by Andrew Van Huss, CC BY-SA 4.0

The $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law on March 27, included a $50 million package to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to help libraries continue to provide workforce development, connectivity, and digital content during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. However, as the pandemic continues to spread across the United States and the resulting economic crisis shows no sign of abating, it has become clear that anticipated declines in tax revenues and contractions to state and municipal budgets will result in larger cuts to library funding than the CARES Act alone can address.

In letters dated May 1, 147 members of Congress urged Senate and House leadership to support additional funding to libraries through IMLS, warning that “library cuts would ripple throughout our communities, affecting support for education, workforce recovery, and access to computers and the internet.”

On July 2, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI) introduced the bipartisan Library Stabilization Fund Act (LSFA) in both chambers (S.4181 and H.R.7486, respectively). The legislation, introduced with 13 cosponsors on both sides of the aisle in the Senate and 27 in the House, would establish a dedicated $2 billion fund to be administered by IMLS that would address the financial losses incurred in the pandemic shutdown and bolster library services going forward, with priority given to the hardest-hit communities.

“COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on every aspect of our daily lives. Libraries, which anchor our local communities, are no exception,” said Reed in a statement. “This legislation will help ensure libraries can safely weather COVID-19 and continue to find new ways to bridge the digital divide and safely provide information, books, programming, and services that people of all ages need to stay engaged and informed. This is a smart investment in our libraries to keep people and communities connected and contribute to our economic recovery.”

Funding through LSFA would provide:

  • $1.7 billion to be distributed to local libraries through state library agencies based on state population, with a minimum of $10 million to each state
  • $45 million in formula grants—noncompetitive awards based on statistical criteria—to Tribal libraries
  • $200 million in competitive grants to strengthen library services to communities affected by COVID-19
  • $40 million for IMLS to administer grants and conduct research and data collection related to COVID-19

According to the American Library Association (ALA), these funds would allow libraries to keep nearly 370,000 workers on the job, purchase cleaning supplies and train staff for safe reopening, and support a range of services, including high-speed internet access and digital literacy training; all-ages remote learning resources for educators and students; tools and guidance for entrepreneurs; employment assistance; support in applying for veterans’ benefits, unemployment insurance, medical coverage, and other services; and programming around early literacy, entrepreneurship, and lifelong learning.

“We have all been working through this very stressful crisis of COVID-19. Library staff have never stopped working for their communities during the crisis, whether their doors have been open or closed, [and] we have all been affected economically,” ALA President Julius J. Jefferson Jr. told LJ. “Most libraries are funded at the local level, which means that when the counties and cities have been hit, one of the first things they begin to cut will be library services—sometimes not realizing how valued the services that libraries have been providing during COVID-19 are.”

S.4181 has been referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions; H.R.7486 to the Committee on Education and Labor, and also to the Committee on the Budget. The final bill will most likely proceed attached to another piece of legislation, yet to be decided—hopefully by the end of July, before Congress goes on its August recess.

LSFA has been endorsed widely by library organizations and vendors that include the Association for Rural & Small Libraries, Association of Research Libraries, Chief Officers of State Library Agencies, Society of American Archivists, Urban Libraries Council, Brodart, Follett/Baker & Taylor, OverDrive, and many more.

 

GRASSROOTS ADVOCACY WORKS

Levin, a freshman House Democrat, is a lifelong patron and supporter of libraries. “They're an indispensable, egalitarian institution in American society,” he told LJ. He authored the bill, in part, because “I don't think most people realize the role they're playing” during the pandemic. “Kids learning remotely, people who've lost their jobs and are using libraries to reconnect with employers and new opportunities. Some libraries [are] even connecting folks with telehealth services.”

Levin is well aware of the critical role libraries will play in in workforce development going forward. He served as deputy director and then acting director for the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth (DELEG) from 2007–11, and oversaw the "No Worker Left Behind" program, which provided job training to unemployed workers. “I saw then how crucial libraries are not [only] to kids and…all of us as readers, but for people connecting with services, for people seeking jobs,” he noted.

Both Levin and Jefferson urged library workers, leaders, and advocates to send their members of Congress a message through ALA’s webpage asking them to support LSFA.

“It's not an exaggeration to say that they can determine whether this moves forward, whether it can become law,” said Levin. “Every member of the House, every senator, has many libraries in their district or state, and librarians, kids, parents, and constituents [can] reach out to them.”

Library supporters have had plenty of experience over the past four years making sure their voices are heard—and Levin reiterated that those messages do reach elected officials. “I don't know if people get cynical about reaching out to their member of Congress,” he told LJ, “but now that I'm here, I can tell you authoritatively that every week I find out who wrote about what, who called, who texted, who emailed, how many, and I read as many of them directly as I can. And we respond. If all the librarians of America reached out to their members of the House and the Senate, and if they got their boards and their patrons to do so, it would make a huge difference. It would help us move this legislation forward. So it's really in their hands. Having people speak out at the grassroots is what shapes things around here.”

 

TAKING IT ON THE (VIRTUAL) ROAD

Jefferson suggests that people bring stories about how their local library has supported the community throughout the pandemic to their legislators. “If you have benefited from access to the internet in a parking lot, or the many ways that libraries have pivoted and adjusted to the demands that COVID-19 brought about—whether it was picking up unemployment forms, or creating resumes, dealing with telehealth, helping with homework in a virtual environment—if you benefited from this, we want you to talk to your local officials,” he told LJ. “We want you to have the conversation so there's a buzz, and we want you to move these stories up the chain so that members of Congress can understand that you are their constituents and this bill will benefit the community that these members represent, whether on a district or a state level.”

To help gather those stories, Jefferson launched a 12-day, 12-stop virtual national advocacy tour of the nation’s libraries on July 27, broadcasting live from the Library of Congress reading room with guest appearances from Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden and IMLS Director Crosby Kemper.

Jefferson’s visits to libraries from Pennsylvania to Hawaii will feature town halls, round table discussions, and interviews with library leaders, state and local partners, and elected officials, talking about topics from Historically Black Colleges and Universities and academic libraries to school, tribal, and public libraries. Although the tour was conceived, pre-COVID, as a face-to-face event—“I thought I would be boarding a bus today,” Jefferson said in his kickoff speech, whetting commenters’ curiosity when he noted that he had a playlist picked out—each stop of the tour will be broadcast via Zoom and archived on YouTube.

“This is our best and likely last chance this year to secure COVID funding for libraries,” Jefferson said. “Get on the bus and join me.”

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Lisa Peet

lpeet@mediasourceinc.com

Lisa Peet is News Editor for Library Journal.

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Carolyn Thibodeaux

This is exciting news to see the positive energy Mr Jefferson brings to the table, despite all the challenges from COVID-19....Keep all the engaging going "Apart...Together" from Port Arthur Public, Southeast Tx/The Golden Triangle.

Posted : Jul 28, 2020 06:36


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