Main library

Long Beach Public Library is spelled out in the windows of the new library above the Broadway entrance.

All the fanfare — complete with celebrities and dignitaries — is set for 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 21.

That means Glenda Williams and her staff, with major assistance from the city's Technology and Innovation Department, have about nine more days to get the Billie Jean King Main Library ready for business. Williams, the city's director of library services, sounded just a bit nervous last Friday.

"We've moved the entire collection into the building," Williams said. "We're starting the technology install today. We have to have all that working, and have the internet installed… We're working very closely with the Technology and Innovation folks, who are doing a great job."

That collection Williams mentioned came from the 1976-era Main Library across what once was Lincoln Park. The new 92,000-square-foot main library is at the corner of Broadway and Pacific Avenue.

It is the most public component of the more than $530 million civic center being built by Plenary-Edgemoor Civic Partners that also includes the already-open City Hall, Port of Long Beach headquarters, Bob Foster Civic Chambers and a plaza between those buildings. Still to come is a rebuilt Lincoln Park, then private development expected to include multiple use high-rises.

Both the old city hall and main library were determined to have structural issues earlier this decade, prompting the new buildings. The old library's roof, once designed to be an urban park open to the public, developed significant leaks more than a decade ago, a precursor to a series of structural issues.

The new library presents itself as a construct of wood and glass, with a significantly reinforced core. Underneath the two stories of public library is a basement with significant storage space and connection to an underground city parking garage.

But what library patrons will see are the two floors of public space devoted to books, periodicals, meeting spaces and computers — lots of computers. The Long Beach Library Foundation has raised more than $2 million so far to "furnish" the library with an advanced family learning center, a fully functional maker studio with three-D printers and more.

"This library is the best investment the community can make," said Kate Azar, executive director of the Long Beach Library Foundation. "The city has invested in the building, the basics. We do the enhancements."

One of the major enhancements has come thanks to a $250,000 donation from the Long Beach Rotary Club, given to enhance the children's library area. Williams said it has become a jewel within a jewel.

"People will be really pleased to see the children's section," she said. "It's inspiring — bright, educational. When we began the move, a lot of people asked if we were going to keep the reading bathtub (a popular spot in the old library's children's section). A lot of people have great memories of reading there. Well, we couldn't keep the bathtub, but now we've got the reading boat. It's going to be great, and more memories will be made there."

Azar said the foundation would continue to raise money specifically for the main library — the goal at the start of the drive was $3 million — through its inaugural year. Part of that money will go to an endowment to keep the family learning center, the studio and more operating far into the future.

The foundation is hosting a semi-private reception Friday, Sept. 20, for "founding donors" who have participated in the drive. To donate, go to lbplfoundation.org.

The grand opening Saturday will be a day-long affair, from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Billie Jean King is slated to make an appearance, along with city elected officials and dignitaries. More information is expected in the coming week.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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