The Tell: Public libraries need $32 billion for capital improvements, study finds


As federal stimulus money starts to flow to city and state budgets, the group in charge of one of the best-loved parts of American communities has a request.

Public libraries in the U.S. need $32 billion for construction and renovation, according to a report from the American Library Association.

While any needs assessment conducted by an industry group may seem inherently self-serving, it’s worth noting that a recent academic research paper found that spending on library capital projects, specifically, has positive impacts for the community.

“We find that capital investment sharply increases library visits (by 21%), children’s checkouts of items (by 21%), and children’s attendance at library events (by 18%),” the paper’s authors wrote. “These increases in usage persist for at least 10 years after capital investment. Capital investment also increases library book holdings, employees, spending on salaries, and operating expenditures.”

Read: How do you quantify the value of a public library? Here’s what one report finds

The ALA release notes that public libraries operate approximately 17,000 locations nationwide, and Americans make more than 1.3 billion library visits per year.

“The average public library building is more than 40 years old, including hundreds of buildings that are more than 100 years old,” the brief says, pointing out that everything from walkways and parking lots to HVAC and wireless internet systems require upgrades.

Source: American Library Association

Over the past four years, several states have assessed their spending needs at about $8.2 billion. Extrapolating from the number of residents in those states, the ALA estimates that libraries nationally need $32 billion for construction and renovation.

“At current levels of funding, based on nationwide capital expenditures over the last five years, it would take more than 25 years to meet today’s estimated national needs,” the brief concludes.

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