The process to rename our new Main Library after Long Beach native daughter and national icon Billie Jean King is progressing headlong to its conclusion. The recommendation by the Housing and Neighborhood Committee to the City Council received a YES vote, 3-0, Monday afternoon at a hastily-scheduled meeting.
Many people have spoken eloquently on behalf of the name change, recognizing Mrs. King’s many accomplishments. Long Beach is rightfully proud that she continues to represent our city, and we all agree she is a notable icon for sport, inclusion and LBGQT rights.
The Friends of the Library have felt like a lone wolf in our position that Main Library should stay named Main Library. And I think some people have misunderstood that position, and feel that we are disrespecting Mrs. King. It’s true that we fail to see a connection between our Main Library and Mrs. King. As we’ve stated before, we think even Mrs. King would agree that the word “library” would not be among the first words associated with the mention of her name.
The truth is, the Friends of the Library simply believe that our Main Library should continue to be named Main Library, and not be named for any individual. It’s unusual for the Friends to take any public position, but we would take this position regardless of whose name was proposed.
The name Main Library indicates a library that is the hub of a system. Our Main Library houses the library services administration offices and offers more programs and services than any of the other 11 neighborhood libraries. Although it is located in the Second City Council district, it does not belong only to that district; its reach extends to the entire city. Throughout the country, in great cities such as New York, Boston, Seattle and San Diego, main libraries are not named for an individual, but are simply named Main Library. Our Long Beach Main Library should continue that tradition.
The Friends have voiced concerns with how the re-naming process has evolved. The new Main Library construction began in 2015, and planning began earlier than that. And yet suddenly, in March of this year, Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce began to reach out to her constituents in the Second District for naming suggestions. All of this in spite of the official city policy that states public buildings should not be named for living persons, a policy that is being willfully ignored. And despite the fact that the Main Library belongs to the entire city, the councilwoman’s initial outreach for naming suggestions, and the committee that was then formed, did not include residents from throughout the city. Why did it take so long to involve the rest of the city?
By rushing through the process, we do not believe the City Council is giving the entire city the opportunity to respond to a name change proposal.
Finally, is there a plan for paying for the last-minute name change? Because Long Beach is leasing the building for the next 40 years, anything attached to the building must be approved by the developer and his architect. This includes signage on the outside and inside of the building, and any artwork that may be hung on the walls. With our new Main Library scheduled to open in September, signage has been planned, approved, and in some cases, already installed; in addition, documents — brochures, newsletters, etc. — have already been printed with the original Main Library name. To make changes now will be costly. The library budget certainly has no funds available to redesign and replace signing already in place or to reprint documents. We believe the funding required for any name change would be better spent in a donation to the Library Foundation's New Main Campaign.
There will be one last chance to voice opinions, pro and con, about this name change when the motion comes before the full City Council, and the Friends encourage all residents to use their voice. Whatever the final decision, the Friends of the Library will continue to support and advocate for our Main Library and all our neighborhood libraries.
Barbara Sosa is the president of the Friends of the Long Beach Public Library.