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Congress aims to protect future of American libraries

Published: Jul. 20, 2020 at 10:24 AM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - From card to digital catalogs; paperbacks to e-books; American libraries are turning the page to keep up with the times.

“We have really had to do some pivoting because of COVID,” said Roberta Phillips, CEO of Prince George County Memorial Library System in Maryland.

As part of the system’s phased reopening plan, Prince George’s County Libraries are working to gradually resume in-person services. On July 21st, many branches will be open for curbside pickup and drop-off. Books and other materials will be wiped down and quarantined for 72 hours before returning to the shelves.

PGCMLS is now fine-free. Many resources are also available online; such as virtual discussions, storytelling, and youth summer programs.

Phillips says Prince George County has not yet had to furlough or lay-off any employees, however she says she is uncertain about the future.

“We just don’t know yet,” said Phillips. “We are hopeful that it won’t have any major impacts.”

Back in March, Congress allocated $50 million in emergency library funding as part of the Cares Act. Now, members of the American Library Association are calling for even more federal assistance.

American Library Association President Julius C. Jefferson Jr. says another round of relief is overdue as libraries across the country face furloughs and layoffs.

He supports the Library Stabilization Fund Act. The proposed legislation would provide $2-billion dollars to accelerate recovery form the pandemic. $1.7 billion would be distributed to local libraries through state library agencies based on state population, with a minimum of $10 million to each state.

The legislation would also allocate $45 million in formula grants to Tribal libraries. The rest would be made available for grants to be administrated by the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences.

It’s a bi partisan bill, although the majority of co-sponsors are democrat, as many members of Congress aim to limit federal spending.

When asked if library lending should be left to the states and local governments, Jefferson said he knows counties and cities are struggling with funding.

“We’re not just talking about books,” said Jefferson. “Filing for unemployment; searching for a job. We are talking about telehealth; about veterans applying for their benefits. This can be the difference in libraries actually serving these communities and providing these essential services that we need now more than ever.”

While the outlook of bill is unclear at the moment. Jefferson hopes the legislation will pass by the end of the fiscal year.

The ALA is also hoping for funding from Congress in the next phase of coronavirus relief legislation. Lawmakers hope to pass another stimulus bill before the August recess.

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