Build America’s Libraries

Access, Legislation

Joint post written by Gretchen Corsillo and Samantha Mairson

Meet the Build America’s Library Act

A bill recently introduced in the U.S. Senate seeks to provide federal aid to libraries for construction projects and capital improvements. S. 127, also known as the Build America’s Libraries Act was introduced by Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and co-sponsored by Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) on January 28, 2021. This bill was originally introduced by Reed during the 116th Congress on December 19, 2020 but did not move forward. Now that it has been reintroduced as part of the 117th Congress, it has been referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. 

Under the proposed bill, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) would receive $5 billion in federal funding to distribute to state libraries. Each state would then be responsible for awarding competitive grants to public and tribal libraries for the purposes of new construction or improvements to existing facilities. Costs for assessments and other planning tools would be eligible as well. Specific examples of eligibility can be found in American Library Association (ALA) fact sheet on the bill. The full text of the bill is available online as well.

The Build America’s Libraries Act seeks to provide more equitable access for all and calls for funding to be prioritized to “underserved and distressed communities, low-income and rural areas, and people with disabilities and vulnerable library users including children and seniors”. Capital improvements may directly address pandemic-related needs, although this is not a requirement. 


The Build America’s Libraries Act reminds me of Andrew Carnegie’s program for building and expanding the presence of public libraries in America. The bill’s language is a beacon of community and individual betterment. In an age without Carnegie, an age that is plagued (literally plagued) by COVID-19, a handful of Democrat Senators are using their power to ask that a check be made out to America’s libraries in the amount of $5,000,000,000 to repair, modernize, and construct library facilities across the country. 

Bearing in mind that forecasts for the bill’s approval are weak, and there is a gauntlet of checks and balances on the road to ultimate approval, these funds would be distributed by way of IMLS and state agencies through grant applications.

The American Librarian Association is throwing all its weight behind this one. The money from this bill would wholly makeover America’s libraries and revitalize libraries’ ability to serve all members of their communities. 

Interpretations and the Library Bill of Rights

What is the Library Bill of Rights? It is a really cool document that outlines the guiding moral principles of American library service. What are the interpretations? They are a great series of explanations that expand on the moral groundwork of the Library Bill of Rights and address the specific issues of our time. In previous posts we looked at two interpretations: one on expurgation (blacking out books) and one on user generated content in discovery systems (don’t do what Trump did on Twitter).

When we think about the Build America’s Library Act, we need to think about the Library Bill of Rights interpretation that calls for libraries to prioritize equitable service to people with disabilities. When we think about “Building America’s Libraries” we need to think about government funds that enable libraries to break down physical, virtual and social barriers to access. If and when this act is approved, libraries will be able to apply for and invest in capital improvements that ensure compliance with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as  state, local and advocacy group accessibility guidelines.

Library Bill of Rights. The American Library Association recognizes that people with disabilities are a large and vibrant part of society. Libraries should be fully inclusive of all members of their community and strive to break down barriers to access. The library can play a transformational role in helping facilitate more complete participation in society by providing fully accessible resources and services.

Bursting pipes, outdated HVAC systems from the eighties, bathroom stalls that require hobbling from people bound to wheelchairs, asbestos, mold, the risk of deadly respiratory disease.

It’s time to give our libraries the love they deserve.

Call to Action

Follow the public policy and advocacy office in D.C. on Twitter and help #BuildLibraries by contacting your senators and members of congress. 

Intellectual freedom is only as strong as the libraries themselves. It is time to invest in America’s libraries and ensure everyone has access.

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