New Special District Legislation Benefits Library Districts

The House Oversight and Accountability Committee passed the Special District Grant Accessibility Act (H.R. 7525), an important milestone for special districts across the United States. This legislative development is a significant step in the ongoing effort to recognize and support the unique role that special districts, including library districts, play in local governance.

A lack of a coherent definition of special districts hampers the ability of public libraries to apply for federal grant programs like municipalities do across a wide number of departments and titles. For example, public library districts in 21 states were not eligible to directly apply for and receive COVID-19 pandemic relief through ARPA and CARES Act funding despite the tremendous amount of COVID-focused work they were responsible for. Municipalities (towns, cities, and counties) were eligible for funding and could allocate relief funds to their municipal department libraries. While IMLS made block grant allocations within ARPA to state libraries for re-granting, self-governing public libraries could not benefit from all the prerogatives of being a district. This problem for library districts extends beyond disaster relief to numerous federal programs every year.

Without new authorization from H.R. 7525, library districts will continue to face the impossible challenge of accessing direct grant funding due to the need for federal recognition as units of local governments. The Special District Grant Accessibility Act will establish a federal definition of "special district," which is essential for ensuring that these districts are recognized as local governments and are eligible to receive federal assistance, funding, and resources through key grant programs. H.R. 7525 proposes a formal definition of "special district" as a political subdivision of a state created for performing limited and specific governmental or proprietary functions, excluding certain entities like school districts and cities. The legislation also directs federal agencies to recognize special districts as local governments for the purpose of federal assistance eligibility.

According to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) 2018 Public Library Survey (PLS), at least 1,400 of our nation's 9,261 public libraries are "library districts" organized as special districts under state laws. This means that over 15% of our nation's libraries stand to benefit directly from this new definition. This is not just a win for the libraries themselves but for their communities. Additional authorizations for funding mean potential access to new resources for educational programs, technology, community engagement initiatives, facility upgrades, and vital services that libraries uniquely provide. If this legislation passes, library districts must take the federal government up on this opportunity and apply for the programmatic supports their communities need. 

The progress of the Special District Grant Accessibility Act is a testament to the National Special Districts Coalition's collective advocacy and efforts nationwide. The EveryLibrary Institute joined the Coalition last May to ensure that library interests were represented in the discussion, and we are the only national library organization in the Coalition. We have been actively convening and connecting library district representatives from a dozen states to join this conversation. If your library, system, or state library would like to be at that table, please contact John Chrastka for details. 

Passage of H.R.7525 out of committee is a step toward ensuring that special districts are recognized and supported as vital components of our local governance landscape. As the legislation moves to be considered by the full House, library districts and their advocates need to engage with their Congressional delegation members, urging them to cosponsor H.R. 7525 and support its passage. We are committed to making library voices heard and advocating for the recognition and support that library districts rightfully deserve.



Add your name to the growing list of library stakeholders asking Congress to pass H.R. 7525, the Special District Grant Accessibility Act.