On Jan. 1, 1896, a group calling itself the Long Beach Library Association opened the city's first library in a small building on Ocean Boulevard.
The books came from the Women's Christian Temperance Union, and the library served the entire city. One hundred and twenty-five years later, the Long Beach Public Library system includes 11 branch libraries and a Billie Jean King Main Library that opened less than two years ago downtown.
Then, 100 years after that first day, the Long Beach Public Library Foundation was created. That nonprofit foundation is able to accept donations to enhance the library system, which now is part of the city government.
Over the last 25 years, the foundation has raised millions of dollars for the libraries and special projects there. It began funding Family Learning Centers 20 years ago, ultimately establishing a center in every library in the city.
More recently, the library foundation has conducted fund-raising campaigns to enhance the Michelle Obama Neighborhood Library and the Billie Jean King Main Library as they opened. the foundation has raised more than $2 million with its New Main Campaign. In 2019, more than $1.5 million was donated to educational programs and library enhancements, as well.
“125 years ago, a group of community members started the Long Beach Public Library to promote literacy. In 1996, the Library Foundation was founded to continue this legacy of giving,” Library Foundation Executive Director Kate Azar said in an email. “As we celebrate our 25th anniversary, we are proud to support the library as it serves on the front lines of our city’s most pressing issues, including its resources and programs that bridge educational, digital, economic, and cultural divides. Throughout Long Beach, families need the Library’s resources now more than ever to get their lives and livelihoods back on track.
"We hope that all who are able will make a donation of any amount in honor of these important anniversaries," Azar added. "We are grateful to our first contributor, the Port of Long Beach, for their $25,000 gift. Long Beach is an extremely generous city, and the Library Foundation looks forward to rallying the community throughout 2021 in support of the many who depend on the Library.”
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, all of the city's libraries are closed to the public now. However, the library has launched an LBPL To-Go program that allows people to check items out online and pick them up in a contact-free process at several libraries — Billie Jean King Main, Michelle Obama, Mark Twain, Los Altos, Harte, El Dorado, and Bay Shore. Appointments are made online for the pickup and drop boxes are open outside the libraries to return books and other materials.
Because of the uncertainty caused by the pandemic regarding when people can gather together physically again, no plans have been announced to celebrate either the 125th or the 25th anniversary.