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Public Libraries: Funding "Critical" to Provide Community Services

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The Build America's Libraries Act, introduced in Congress last month, would upgrade state and tribal library infrastructure. (Tyler Olson/Adobe Stock)
The Build America's Libraries Act, introduced in Congress last month, would upgrade state and tribal library infrastructure. (Tyler Olson/Adobe Stock)
 By Lily Bohlke, Public News Service - ME - Producer, Contact
March 5, 2021

MILLINOCKET, Maine -- Local libraries have adapted to offer critical services during the pandemic, from deploying mobile Wi-Fi hotspots to teaching digital skills, and printing and scanning forms for people working from home.

Now, library systems say they need some help.

The American Rescue Plan the U.S. House passed last weekend includes $200 million for the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Matt DeLaney, director of the Millinocket Memorial Library in the rural Katahdin region, said as libraries have had to reduce hours and furlough workers because of budget shortfalls, some residents are falling through the cracks.

"You take this out of the picture, out of people's lives, and they lose access to so many other things," DeLaney explained. "Social connections, access to medicine, access to food, access to unemployment, disability, all of those things."

DeLaney pointed out often, decision-makers and people of influence aren't the ones who regularly use library services, and thus see them as solely for recreation.

But he noted they're a necessity for people who don't have access to broadband, computers and printers.

DeLaney added his library's vital role became even more clear when it closed for a few months at the beginning of the pandemic.

"We basically set up a curbside service window, where we tried to continue as many services as we could, related to printing, scanning, those very simple things," DeLaney recounted. "But there was no other place in town to do that, for a lot of our patrons."

Julius Jefferson, president of the American Library Association, said public libraries across the nation have adjusted to doing what they can online and taking safety precautions for in-person interactions.

"I want all Americans to know, and especially those in underserved areas, that they can depend on libraries for free educational, career and business development resources to help recover," Jefferson stated.

Members of Congress also have introduced the Build America's Libraries Act.

The bill would allocate $5 billion dollars to long-term improvements for libraries, to help them better serve rural and low-income communities.

Disclosure: American Library Association contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy and Priorities, Census, and Education. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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