Leaky Roofs, Bad Plumbing, No Internet: Advocates Say America’s Libraries Need $32 Billion for Infrastructure Upgrades

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lIn Bisbee, Arizona, the Copper Queen Library, founded in 1882, is 114 years old – and it shows.

The library, on the National Register of Historic Places, a hub for Brisbee families, has a leaking roof and cracks in the facade. The ceiling in the young adult room recently collapsed, forcing the room to close for three weeks.

“You can follow Bisbee’s story through our library’s story because we’ve been here forever,” says library manager Jason Macoviak.

The Copper Queen is central to community life: from hosting an event every Halloween for the community to bringing fairy tales to life; to create a separate room for teenagers – until the ceiling collapsed and the room had to be closed for a while.

“That’s the hardest target audience to reach,” says Macoviak. “We kind of lost that engagement.”

The Copper Queen Library

Hundreds of library buildings in the US are more than 100 years old and in a deplorable condition, according to a recent report by the American Library Association. estimates many of the country’s 17,000 libraries need $32 billion to build and renovate.

During the pandemic, many libraries across the country became lifelines for residents, offering everything from Wi-Fi to parking, notary services and sidewalk craft projects for kids.

Although the average age of a library building is over 40 years old, there has been no specific federal infrastructure funding since 1997.

As a result, the buildings are plagued with old wiring, plumbing, leaking roofs, faulty fire alarms and sprinklers, the report finds. Due to the old wiring, they often have no internet access. At current funding levels, it would take 25 years to get the job done, the report found.

The McAlester Library

Nine states — Alaska, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Washington, West Virginia and the District of Columbia — estimate their public libraries need more than $8 billion to build and renovate.

American Library Association

The Build America’s Libraries Act, enacted in January 2021, would fund upgrades to library infrastructure to recover from natural disasters, environmental hazards and accessibility barriers. With Congress working on a $3.5 trillion reconciliation plan, the Senate has until September 15 to finalize the allocation of the funds. The ALA has lobbied to include the Build America’s Libraries Act in the new plan.

“We know that libraries are loved by communities across the country,” said ALA president Patty Wong. “This legislation gives us the opportunity to re-invest in our libraries in a significant way to create stronger equity in our community and ensure that we have libraries in the future.

“Libraries are not just bricks and mortar, but they are anchors within the community that need a little bit of structure to provide the service we provide,” Wong said.

During the pandemic, communities relied on libraries. And libraries found ways to deliver while other public facilities closed.

A prime example of how libraries got creative during COVID-19 is the work of a consortium of 34 public libraries in rural New York state.

“During COVID-19, it was sometimes the only place in town to get things,” said Sara Dallas, the branches’ consortium director. Libraries in Hamilton County provided 24/7 access to materials and Wi-Fi, so their parking lots were full, even down to the streets on the other side of the library.

“The Indian Lake Public Library offered takeout crafts to kids on the side of the street so families could do activities with their kids,” said Dallas, “and often these libraries were the only places with notaries and access to document printing. the edge of the street.”

Whitehall’s Free Library

Whitehall’s Free Library

California libraries distributed Chromebooks, laptops and hotspots to students during the pandemic, Wong said.

“We’ve seen firsthand that so many people in our community queued or parked in (library) parking lots, using Wi-Fi because they didn’t have digital access at home,” said Wong of libraries in her state of California.

Some projects had to be shelved because California libraries need nearly $5 billion in infrastructure funds, she added.

Speaking to the Copper Queen in Bisbee, Arizona, Macoviak said last year’s Halloween party was canceled due to the pandemic. This year, he hopes the event will go ahead.

Teens have already started holding monthly planning meetings.

For Macoviak, the event and all the enthusiasm and planning surrounding it underline the importance of libraries and the need to keep them functioning.

The Copper Queen Library

“They make their own program and take ownership of their library,” Macoviak says. “It just shows the great importance of having these spaces available.”

Libraries, he continued, “are safe. They are open to everyone. It doesn’t matter who you are, how much money you make or what your status is.”

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