Libraries are the anchor points of our communities. They need help.

Let’s address the juggernaut in the room.

Once the Cohoes Public Library is secure again, visitors will once again be able to see Marty the Juggernaut standing in the choir gallery of this former church. Its welcoming presence is a tribute to the prehistoric creature unearthed on this site before the building was constructed in 1898.

As of yet, however, there are no story hours, study areas for returning students, public computers or loanable WiFi hotspots – and no mastodon. After pieces of the building’s bluestone facade fell from outside the library earlier this summer, the building was closed pending repairs. Limited library services are provided from a small temporary location across town.

Public libraries like Cohoes’ are the anchors of their communities, yet many of them are literally collapsing before our eyes.

This critical infrastructure issue has attracted the attention of 149 bipartisan cosponsors of the federal Build America’s Libraries Act, which will give us the opportunity to reverse this disturbing trend. Congress has a September 15 deadline to allocate funds for the budget, and it is crucial that libraries are included.

The Build America’s Libraries Act would allocate $ 5 billion to libraries nationwide, and approximately $ 261 million to New York State, for the modernization and renovation of public libraries.

Each of the 36 public library buildings in the Upper Hudson Library System is unique and special. But it is also true that their average age is just over 86 years old.

The fact that Herman Melville taught in the building that houses the Troy’s Lansingburgh library; that the oldest part of the Westerlo Public Library was built in 1798; or that the Bibliothèque Libre d’Altamont is located in a train station built in 1897 are all real sources of community pride. But we also know that historic buildings are more expensive to repair and maintain, and pose unique challenges for accessibility and connectivity as public buildings.

Conversely, a library does not need to be historic to have critical infrastructure needs. Many of our “newer” libraries, those built in the 1980s and 1990s, have structural problems and have building systems that are reaching the end of their useful life. And while this presents the potential to install high efficiency systems, large infrastructure projects like these are sometimes prohibitively expensive for publicly funded institutions.

Congress has not funded library construction since 1996. Fortunately, the New York Legislature provides some funding for library construction projects – $ 34 million statewide this year. But with the estimated need for statewide library projects exceeding $ 1.5 billion, that’s far from enough, and securing matching local funds can be a huge hurdle, in especially for small libraries and cash-strapped municipalities.

The Build America’s Libraries Act would pave the way for all communities to rebuild better, not just those with the most financial resources. It would focus on the safety and accessibility of all libraries and prioritize community connectivity and sustainable design. The pandemic has taught us to look at safety from a new perspective, including air quality and ventilation. This bill would make our libraries better, safer and healthier.

The House took a decisive step for all of us by passing the Build Back Better Act budget reconciliation package in August. Congress must take the crucial next step: including libraries in the budget reconciliation bill. Please let your state and federal officials know how important it is that libraries are included in the budget, so that our public libraries can better rebuild and Marty the juggernaut can accommodate future generations at the Cohoes Public Library.

Timothy G. Burke is Executive Director of the Upper Hudson Library System.

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