Congress Allocates Billions of Dollars to Libraries in COVID Relief Package

Susie Dumond

Senior Contributor

Susie (she/her) is a queer writer originally from Little Rock, now living in Washington, DC. She is the author of QUEERLY BELOVED and the forthcoming LOOKING FOR A SIGN from Dial Press/Random House. You can find her on Instagram @susiedoom.

On Wednesday, Congress passed the latest COVID relief package, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021. President Biden is expected to sign the bill into law within the next few days.

In addition to the much-discussed $1,400 stimulus checks, the $1.9 trillion legislation includes a variety of funds to support states, vaccine distribution, small businesses, and importantly, libraries. ARPA allocates $200 million to the Institute of Museum and Library Service (IMLS), an independent federal agency that provides library and museum grants, policy development, and research. Additionally, public, academic, and school libraries are eligible for billions of relief dollars to meet critical public needs.

This level of funding marks the largest single increase in funding in IMLS’s 25-year history. The $200 million will primarily fund the Library Services and Technology Act, a program that funds libraries through state grants and connects libraries through state, regional, national, and international networks. States will receive IMLS funds based on population, with a minimum of $2 million per state. These funds will in turn be allocated to local libraries to support greater access to technology, workforce development programs, technical library needs, and more.

In a press release, American Library Association (ALA) President Julius C. Jefferson, Jr., shared, “ALA has been working tirelessly behind the scenes for months to secure federal support for libraries and librarians. Transformative library services rely on the library workers who offer them. In many cases, ARPA means libraries won’t have to choose between funding community programs and paying salaries of the professional staff who lead them.”

In addition to IMLS grants, libraries are eligible for a variety of other funds included in ARPA. Over $7 billion will go to the Emergency Education Connectivity Fund through the Federal Communications Commission’s E-rate program, which will reimburse libraries fully for certain loanable devices to help patrons access the internet at home. Libraries may also qualify for funds to support public health and education programs, school reopenings, arts and humanities agencies, and more.

Libraries and librarians have always filled gaps in their communities to support patrons in need of help; that has become especially apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic has exposed the level to which Americans rely on libraries to access the internet and learn to navigate it, find jobs and gain new skills, learn to read and identify what information to trust, and become actively engaged in their communities,” said ALA President Jefferson. “At the same time, COVID-19 has forced many states and local governments to implement cuts and furloughs that threaten the very services that communities are relying on for relief.”

Once President Biden signs ARPA into law, some elements of the bill will take effect immediately, while others will enter a rulemaking process through federal agencies. Librarians can watch the ALA’s ARPA webpage for more details as they become available.