In the best of times and in the worst of times, Buffalo & Erie County Public Libraries have found ways to provide library services to Erie County residents that meet their informational, educational and recreational needs.
When libraries had to close per executive order, we quickly pivoted to providing virtual programming, telephone reference services, online training and unemployment and job-seeking assistance. People sat outside of library buildings to take advantage of the free high-speed internet/Wi-Fi services outside of our library buildings. We expanded eResources and eCollections, making them easily accessible with a free eLibrary card. The Library created a Student Digital Library card to improve access to resources in support of classroom curricula.
With libraries reopened, it is evident that library infrastructure improvements and modernization are necessary in our aging library buildings.
The New York State Aid for Library Construction program provides some funding for capital improvements and construction. This aid is, however, dependent upon the state’s budget and the ability to secure local matching funds. We are extremely thankful that New York provides this aid for each municipality that has been able to match the funds as required.
Now, for the first time since 1997, the federal government has proposed a bipartisan infrastructure/construction bill, the Build America’s Libraries Act, which would dedicate $5 billion to the construction and modernization of libraries nationwide with an estimated $254 million for New York libraries.
The libraries of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library System have identified over $100 million in necessary improvements between 2021 and 2025. When available, funds from the act could help repair or replace roofing on 15 libraries, and upgrade electrical infrastructure in 14 libraries to provide the technology required by today’s users. Accessibility improvements would also be prioritized, including restroom accessibility and ADA compliance such as automatic door openers, updated and larger meeting room/gathering spaces, interior redesigns and upgrades to children’s and teen areas as well as reconfigured, repaved and enlarged parking lots at 18 libraries.
We applaud Congress for advancing the Build America’s Libraries Act and are grateful for the ongoing support of our libraries from Reps. Brian Higgins and Chris Jacobs, as well as Sens. Schumer and Gillibrand. Our hope is that this federal funding comes to fruition so that we may continue to improve libraries in our community.
Kathleen Berens Bucki is chair of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library Board of Trustees. Mary Jean Jakubowski is director of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library.