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Congress considers emergency funds to keep libraries open in Missouri

By Mary Schuermann Kuhlman

Courtesy of Public News Service

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Federal lawmakers are considering legislation that would help keep library doors open in Missouri in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

From digital programming to curbside pickup, libraries across the state have pivoted their offerings in order to safely provide materials to community members.

At the Daniel Boone Regional Library in Columbia, Executive Director Margaret Conroy says they’ve shifting funding from programming needs to health and safety supplies.

“The masks, the sanitation cleaning expenses, shields, all the kinds of things that we’re putting in place to keep our staff and our public safe,” says Conroy. “And those, of course, were unanticipated expenses at the beginning of the year.”

Conroy notes that much like other organizations and businesses, libraries have suffered significant financial losses during the pandemic.

The Library Stabilization Fund Act was introduced this month in both the House and Senate; it would establish a $2 billion federal fund to defray library costs and improve services.

Libraries also have served as a trusted resource for Missourians seeking assistance with unemployment assistance, telehealth services and other virtual services. Director and CEO of the St. Louis Library District Kristen Sorth explains they’re also helping those in need.

“We partnered with many area organizations to provide meals, diapers, and just a variety of other things,” says Sorth. “We started in March shortly after we closed, and we continue to provide those services.”

American Library Association President Julius Jefferson says secondary COVID-19 relief packages proposed in Congress do not include dedicated support for library operations.

“There’s been the CARES Act that’s offered lots of relief and funds to small businesses, to those in the health-care industry,” says Jefferson. “But we see libraries as second responders, and this is an opportunity to continue to support the essential services that libraries have been providing throughout this whole pandemic.”

The Library Stabilization Fund Act would help support nearly 370 thousand library jobs nationally, with each state receiving a minimum of $10 million in funding.

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