Federal Relief for School Libraries Will Require State and Local Advocacy

As the novel coronavirus takes a tremendous toll on every aspect of society, ALA is working on all fronts to ensure the nation’s libraries – school, public, and academic – are part of federal relief efforts.


The federal government’s third and so far most significant response to the crisis came in the form of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act, H.R. 748), which was signed into law in March. The legislation included $50 million in funding for libraries through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Since then, IMLS has directed $30 million of this funding to state library agencies and recently announced $15 million in competitive grants to support the role of libraries – including school libraries – and museums in responding to the pandemic. The application deadline is June 12 and more information is available through IMLS.

The most significant source of potential aid for school libraries in the CARES Act comes from the $30 billion for overall education funding. Nearly 44 percent was designated for state educational agencies for K-12 grants to local educational agencies (LEAs). Upon passage of the legislation, ALA notified the U.S. Department of Education that school libraries should be a priority for eligible funding. The letter outlines the contributions of school libraries to a range of programs within the jurisdiction of the Department of Education and affirms, “School and academic libraries are essential learning resources and librarians are essential guides inside our schools and institutions of higher education, leading everyday teaching and learning towards methods and outcomes that best prepare our students for the challenges of the 21st century.”

Nearly $4 billion in CARES Act funding is allocated directly to governors for emergency relief to education agencies, and libraries of all types are eligible. ALA has created a template letter to governors that can be adapted by state associations or individual institutions, recognizing the contributions of all libraries in COVID response and recovery and noting that they should be considered for emergency funding.

Other Funding Opportunities

Beyond CARES Act funding, opportunities for school librarians are available through several sources. The National Education Association Foundation announced several grant opportunities open to NEA members that support educator-led COVID-19 initiatives and address inequality and educational opportunity gaps:

The U.S. Department of Education announced the availability of additional grants that can benefit school libraries:

  • Expanding Access to Well-Rounded Courses Demonstration Grants (deadline: June 26). These grants were authorized under Every Student Succeeds Act, Title IV, part A. Grants are intended to support well-rounded educational opportunities, safe and healthy schools, and technology educaiton.
  • Comprehensive Literacy State Development Grants to state education agencies (deadline: June 2). Formerly known as Striving Readers, this annual program is an opportunity for school librarians to work with their districts and state agencies to develop a literacy plan as part of the application.

Advocate for Your School Library

It is critical for school librarians to have a seat at the table in district-level and community-wide decision making, especially with most of the CARES Act K-12 funding distributed to LEAs. School libraries must be visible to the district superintendent, school board, and local elected officials. To ensure district and local decision-makers understand how school libraries support the district’s priorities for remote learning and for reopening:

  • Engage your local decision makers by asking what they need and provide concrete examples of how your library’s work connects with your district’s priorities.
  • Support internal conversations with social media posts, op-eds, and letters to the editor that put the library’s work in front of the community (see ALA’s tools for traditional and social media advocacy).
  • Use your end-of-year report to highlight key data and one or two stories (think infographic, not dissertation).
  • Enlist local partners such as parents and community groups to advocate for your school library.

At the national level, ALA works closely with coalition partners to advance and advocate for legislation that will positively impact libraries of all types. In the case of school libraries, that includes groups focused on education, digital literacy, broadband access, and healthy communities. For example, ALA secured the support of K-12 groups such as the American Federation of Teachers, the Association of Secondary School Principals, and the National Association of Elementary School Principals to advocate for library funding. ALA also worked closely with the Title IV Part A Coalition to ensure the school library-eligible program was not eliminated or scaled-down by the U.S. Department of Education.

Last week, the House approved a $3 trillion relief package, the HEROES Act (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, H.R. 6800), which included nearly $1 trillion for state and local government stabilization, more than $100 billion for education support, and $5 million for IMLS. Also included was broadband funding for which ALA advocated. While the HEROES Act is not expected to pass the Senate in its current form, ALA continues to work to support library funding in all future relief packages and to work with state partners as they demonstrate the critical role that libraries have played in the pivot to remote learning; the continuation of literacy and STEM programming; the innovative solutions to move toward more equitable learning opportunities; and the social-emotional support that is so essential for learners of all ages during this time.

Let ALA’s Public Policy and Advocacy Office know how you are reaching out locally and how we can support your efforts. E-mail us at mcusick@ala.org and kmaher@alawash.org. For timely alerts on funding and policies important to libraries, visit ala.org/takeaction.

Author: Kevin Maher and Megan Cusick

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Association News, Blog Topics, News

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