Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Wayne DeAngelo, Thomas Giblin, Troy Singleton, Jamel Holley and Dan Benson to provide grants for the construction, expansion and equipping of public libraries in New Jersey was advanced Monday by an Assembly committee.
“Some might question the relevance of libraries when technology is so prevalent, but for one, not everyone has access to technology, and secondly, libraries are more than just a place to get books,” said DeAngelo (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “They are gathering places. They are places where people can get college prep and career assistance. They are places where people without access to computers or an internet connection can have free access to both. Given the value of libraries and what they provide our communities, it would be irresponsible not to invest in their viability.”
The bill (A-222), entitled the “New Jersey Library Construction Bond Act,” would authorize the issuance of $125 million in state general obligation bonds to provide grants for the construction, expansion, and equipping of New Jersey’s public libraries.
The bill would direct the state librarian, in consultation with the president of Thomas Edison State College, to establish eligibility criteria for the receipt of grants. The state librarian, with the approval of the president, would prepare a list of eligible projects.
“Libraries are community centers. They are places where people go for information and to engage with neighbors,” said Giblin (D-Essex/Passaic). “In a world that’s becoming more isolated as social media interactions replace face-to-face exchanges, libraries play a vital role in not only making knowledge accessible to all, but preserving social interactions so important to a thoughtful society.”
“Some libraries have been forced to shutter or reduce their hours due to a lack of funding. This is a disservice to residents who rely on their local libraries for a variety of services,” said Singleton (D-Burlington). “These grants would allow existing libraries to expand and make improvements and permit new ones to be built, while creating jobs and putting people to work. It’s a win-win.”
“Libraries have helped to bridge the digital divide by providing patrons with access to computers and the Internet, while continuing to provide a wide range of critical services,” said Holley (D-Union). “However, budgetary restrictions continue to threaten their existence. This is one way to give libraries the financial resources they need to thrive and continue to serve their communities.”
“Libraries provide a myriad of services to a wide, diverse audience. On any day, you can find people of all ages browsing the aisles for books, making use of the computers, or gathering for a program or public meeting,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “We have a responsibility to those residents who benefit from their local libraries to ensure that they remain part of their communities.”
Under the bill, for any approved project financed by bond proceeds, the grant award would support 50 percent of the cost of the project, and the appropriate local governing entity in the area served by the public library would support 50 percent of the cost of the project.
The bill would provide that the bond act be submitted to the people for approval at the general election to be held at least 70 days after enactment, and would appropriate $5,000 to the Department of State for expenses in connection with the publication of the public question.
It is the belief of the sponsors that, in addition to increasing the capacity of public libraries to better serve the public, the issuance of $125 million in state general obligation bonds for the construction, expansion, and improvement of public libraries will lead to the creation of numerous construction and trade jobs and will help ensure the economic well-being of New Jersey’s citizens.
The bill was released by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.