Libraries have been key partners to cities during the pandemic in tackling the digital divide, among other critical needs, and are now eligible to receive billions of dollars in coronavirus as part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) that passed this week.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) received $200 million, "the largest single increase in the agency's 25-year history," according to the American Library Association (ALA).

The ARPA also includes billions for academic, public and school library-eligible programs, including a $7.17 billion Emergency Education Connectivity Fund through the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) E-rate program. Participating libraries will receive total reimbursement for the cost of hotspots, routers, laptops, tablets and similar devices loaned to their patrons.

Libraries have played a significant role in helping cities connect patrons to the internet throughout the pandemic for a number of needs, including the census count, remote school work, booking vaccine appointments and much more.

The ARPA represents a historic amount of funding, commitment and attention to the digital gaps that have plagued the country for decades, according to Larra Clark, deputy director of the Public Library Association as well as the ALA Public Policy & Advocacy Office. Libraries are an essential thread in our nation’s digital safety net, she said.

Libraries were forced to get creative over the past year in how they delivered internet access and devices, particularly as librarians prepared to face a demand greater than they experienced during the Great Recession.

Read the full article about digital divide by Cailin Crowe at Smart Cities Dive.