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Long Beach's "Billie Jean King Main Library": Has Beloved Name But 30% Smaller Size And Without Former Public Auditorium. How'd That Happen? is reader and advertiser supported. Support independent news in LB similar to the way people support NPR and PBS stations. We're not non-profit so it's not tax deductible but $49.95 (less than an annual dollar a week) helps keep us online.
(Sept. 21, 2019, 4:00 a.m.) -- On July 24, 2019, Long Beach's Mayor/City Council raced to attach the name of internationally-famed LB-beloved Billie Jean King to a new Main Library (coverage here.) Mayors/Councils could have done so years earlier for LB's existing Main Library, but took the high visibility step after they (or some cases their immediate predecessors) voted to shrink the new Main Library's size by 30%, part of a transaction that privatized the publicly owned Civic Center land for 40 years and permanently gave up a portion the public land to private development.

A not-yet-visible high rise with residences above and "mixed retail uses" below will eventually stand where public buildings stood. Something had to give and the new Main Library's size was part of it. The 30% smaller Main Library sits near a new City Hall and Port HQ, alongside what will be a privately owned/operated high rise hotel/residential tower and residential complex/retail marketplace. (Arrow below shows new Main Library.)

Image source: Mayor Garcia Dec. 16, 2015 release

When LB library's support groups learned of the proposed smaller size, some individuals voiced concern but the groups ultimately chose not to fight City Hall. LB city officials now use various terms to justify the smaller Main Library: "smarter," more "efficient" use of space, "state of the art" to handle digital changes.

Below are the numbers. A Sept. 16, 2014 Council "study session" on the new Civic Center included a PPT slide listing the now-former Main Library's size at 135,000 square feet; a year later, city management's agendizing memo accompanying Council voted action on December 15, 2015 listed the Main Library's size as 138,000 sq. feet...and listed the new Library's size as 92,500 sq. feet.

[Scroll down for further.]

Doing the Library building size math:

  • 138,000 - 92,500 = 45,000 sq. ft less (if the auditorium included), a 32.9% smaller building

  • 132,571 - 92,500 = 40,071 sq. feet (excluding the auditorium square footage), 30.2% smaller library space.

Supporters of the Mayor/Council approved new Civic Center and its smaller Main library commonly cite other things. Things other than library books. They cite the new library's expanded children's area, art studio, teen lounge, study area, computers, media production room and a "family learning center" promising programs for veterans, immigrants and adult literacy learners in a facility with an environmentally friendly energy design.

LB's former Main Library included a 5,429 sq. foot auditorium [source: facility rental webpage] that included a stage with permanent seating. It accommodated an audience of 286 people and was previously used for multiple public meetings and accommodated overflow crowds at Council meetings on major matters. [Some who defended the Council's Dec. 2018 voted approval to add a $1 million large-screen "media wall" to the new City Hall lobby argued that it could be used to display Council meetings for overflow crowds (without permanent seating.) coverage here.]


Sponsor provides below the salient Main Library portion of the narrative text of the proposal made to Long Beach officials by a private for-profit entity ("Plenary Edgemoor Civic Partners" or "PECP"). On December 15, 2015, LB's Mayor/Council approved tearing down LB's existing City Hall and Main Library, to be replaced by the firm's plan to develop, build, and operate (for the private entity's profit) a new Civic Center for payment by LB taxpayers of annually increased sums for the next 40+ years plus ultimate conveyance to a private entity of a portion of the public's Civic Center property for permanent private development/use. (The only Council dissent in the process came in an Oct. 2013 vote by then-Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske (who exited office in mid-July 2014),

LB's Mayor/Council voted to pursue the private firm's Civic Center proposal without seeking an RFP [request for proposals] or inviting or obtaining marketplace bids to seismically retrofit LB's less than 40-year-old City Hall and Main Library. LB's electeds avoided seeking LB voter approval for the project officially acknowledged to cost over a half billion dollars ($520 million) by using "public-private-partnership" financing (despite a State Legislative Analyst's report that concluded the financial model proved costly when used to build/operate LB's new County courthouse.)

The day after the Council's Dec. 15, 2015 Civic Center approval vote, Mayor Robert Garcia issued a press release stating in part:

[Mayor Garcia release text, Dec. 16, 2015]...The new center will include iconic architecture, a completely new main library, a revitalized Lincoln Park with new spaces for events, a new City Hall, and the Port's headquarters, as well as a residential and retail component. It will also be LEED certified and, unlike our current Civic Center, seismically sound.

Most importantly, it will cost the City less than we would have to spend to upgrade and maintain the current City Hall and library.

It is vital to move forward with this project, not just because our current Civic Center needs replacing, but because of the tremendous positive economic impact for downtown. More than 8,000 jobs will be created during construction, and the economic stimulation provided by new residences and retail will continue to bring benefits for years to come. With creative retail space, hundreds of new residential units, as well as a boutique hotel, the face of downtown will be transformed for the better.


In its proposal, the private firm said LB's (now former) Main Library had a "general lack of welcoming atmosphere" that "feels cavernous and empty" and cited reasons why "the building can be downsized without sacrificing content." It adds in its summary:

A smaller, more efficient, building will be less costly to operate. Efficiently housed collections will save space, energy and maintenance. With the uncertain future of print materials, collection space is contained at a smaller percentage of the total square footage. Selfservice options will free valuable staff time for programming and direct customer services. Comfortable seating in a more welcoming environment will increase the appeal of the Library to the neighborhood residents and enhance its value as a community library. The creation of more unique "boutique" spaces will encourage use by families, children, teens, disabled individuals, and non-native speakers. New, creative and unique services and features will draw the entire City to the Library to test drive the MakerSpace, the digital labs, the special collections, and enjoy the many programs the Library sponsors. The technology rich environment will appeal to all ages and abilities in the community while still offering an outstanding circulating collection of print and media.

The firm's recommended new size is listed elsewhere in the document: 93,500 sq. ft. (source: Technical proposal text, p. 82; details on pdf pages 96-164.) By the time the Civic Center proposal reached the City Council, the new Main Library building size was reduced by another 1,000 sq. ft to 92,500 sq. ft. It replaces LB's former Main Library building which Dec. 15, 2015 city staff agendizing memo indicated had 138,000 sq. ft. (an earlier staff PPT memo had cited 135,000 sq. ft.)

Text source: PEPC Vol. 2, Technical proposal, p. 37 (pdf page 45)


For the design of the Library, we brought Linda Demmers into the design team to assist with creating a state-of-the-art vision for the Library and to consult on the programming and interior planning. Linda has been a library planner and professional librarian for over 40 years. She has worked on over 150 library projects of which more than 100 are either completed or under construction. She teaches classes on library planning, renovation and needs assessment for the State Library and has managed the Libris Design software project for the past 14 years. She has worked with libraries to push the envelope, to look beyond the box, and to deliver projects that ju risdictions can reasonably afford to build and to maintain. She helped to invent the "Information Commons" at the University of Southern California in 1992 and has continued to help institutions blend the needs of the future with the requirements of retaining the past. She speaks regularly at PLA, CLA, and ALA, and has taught over 100 workshops to librarians and designers on planning library facilities.


Traditionally the public library is a place where librarians and staff collect, process, store and distribute content. Expert assistance is provided in locating and evaluating information. The public was generally engaged in passive quiet scholarly pursuit or leisure reading and browsing. The evolving public library is a place where users create and share content. It encourages active collaboration and creativity. The public library of the past is intensely dependent on staff. The public library of the future is a place where customers are comfortable with self-service; where wayfinding is simplified by the building plan; and where customers can make quick self-managed transactions. Of all library output measures, providing reference assistance has declined the most dramatically in the past eight to ten years. Circulation of materials has held steady while the number of library visits continues to climb.

A great library should be lively and outward oriented, a family destination with programs and events that offer entertainment, education, and enrichment. The library is a key component in the civic engagement of a community. The library is at the heart of a community's conversation and its cultural and educational exchange. This opportunity is enhanced by the chance to design the Lincoln Park and Library simultaneously and as one integrated set of spaces, views and experiences. In addition, the integration of the Cultural Loop binds the Library to the rich history and culture of Long Beach (featuring the Miller Room and the Petroleum Collection).




Maximizing Space Utilization

The shelving capacity of the new Library has been planned to hold the existing collections in a more compact configuration. Future growth, if needed, may be accommodated as collections are phased out due to changes in format and technology. Audio CDs will likely go the way of VHS tapes in the short term with expanded music offerings available for free via Freegal. The future of other distributed media, such as audio books, is also uncertain. The Library currently offers downloadable e-books and audio books through Tumblebook Library®, 3MCloud®, TumbleBookCloud®, TumbleBookCloudJunior®, Audiobook Cloud®, and Overdrive®. The recent addition of AXIS 360® significantly increases the titles available for children. Availability of materials will be limitless with digital offerings and download stations. Providing assistance with personal devices will become increasingly important in the Library's plan of service.

Current best practices recommend re-allocating square footage from stack space to user space. The existing Long Beach Library is heavily weighted with stacks, which are underutilized, inefficiently using the available floor area. By utilizing six shelves per shelving section for most collections, instead of the current four, the Library will maximize the use of floor space with a potential saving of over 5,000 square feet in the adult collections alone. This represents 5,000 square feet that do not have to be built, lighted, maintained, or heated and cooled over the life of the building.

The planned capacity of the new library is 323,000 print volumes (including archival, government, and special collections) and 36,750 media items.

User Friendly Collection Management

On the second floor where the adult collections and reader seats are located, the stacks will be laid out utilizing the column bays to organize the ranges and their collections. Users will have a clear sightline along the end panels to identify the location of specific items. This organization will foster staff efficiency in collection management. In the program and plan, one area is dedicated to fiction and large print collections. Large print will be conveniently located adjacent to the ICPD. With the future of these collections uncertain as well, shelving capacity is not increased. Reading devices such as the Nook® and Kindle® allow the reader to enlarge text, increase contrast and change color of text and background to accommodate those with visual disabilities. A hand held device and access to the Library's Overdrive® offerings will provide unlimited access to reading materials.

The non-fiction collections will provide an acoustical barrier between the busy center core and the southern light filled bays, which will house the adult reader seating. The non-fiction collection will contain the Central Information Collection, non-fiction, plays, music scores, automotive manuals, and government documents. The Magazine Reading Area will provide a buffer between the busier Information Commons and the desirable Quiet Reading Area in the southwest corner.Less used collections, archives, and the Petroleum Collection will be housed in a closed stack which can be climate controlled for preservation and secured from the public.


Finding Balance and Meeting the Need

A primary goal of the program is to return space to users and create a variety of learning, collaborating and creating spaces. The current facility seats 485, the majority of which are at 4-person tables. The group study rooms are closed and there is little comfortable seating except in the teen and children's areas.

The number of user seats will be increased to approximately 514 but more importantly, a variety will be available in light filled reading areas with comfortable seats, individual tables and WiFi access throughout reflecting the changing trends in user requirements. Group study rooms will accommodate study groups, small business meetings, clubs, and workgroups.

The program includes 52 seats in group study and collaborative rooms, 82 lounge seats, parent child reading seats in the early childhood area, tables for one and two, and technology counters for use of personal devices. The group study rooms are located within sightlines of service desks for security. The ICPD will contain three small tutoring rooms in addition to the four adult group study rooms, two teen collaborative rooms, and two children's group study rooms. We have also provided an outdoor room for the Library with connection to Lincoln Park.

People Spaces: Maximizing Views and Natural Light

The location of portions of the program further reflects the siting of the Library within the Park area. The most beautiful views are of the Park from the south end of the Second Floor. This area houses the majority of the adult seating and there are no enclosed spaces in this area. The treasured quiet reading area occupies the southwest corner of the top floor. Areas rich with natural light will allow the Library to reduce lighting costs. Areas that do not want natural light, such as the Public computer stations, are in the center core of the building. The design provides for transparency of Library services. From the Park, one can look up and see readers in the Second Floor reading bays. From other perspectives, one can see activity in the Children's Library and the array of materials in the Market Place. Inside, the Library will proudly feature the ICPD, the Innovation Center, and the Information Commons building on its unique and innovative services.




Leveraging Technology and Innovation

The current library has 70 public use computers. These are largely consolidated in one area with a smaller area for training and additional stations in the children's and teen areas. The program for the new Library calls out space provisions for 163 public stations, with a larger Information Commons containing 45 public Internet stations, a 24-seat public training lab which can also be used for overflow public computing, 24 laptops to borrow for use in the building, more teen computers, a digital media lab, children's and homework center computers, AWE early childhood learning stations, and up to 10 high-end multimedia stations in the MakerSpace "Studio."

The evolving "Studio" which opened in the late Spring of 2014, currently offers 3-D printing, editing software, a green screen, video recording equipment, Adobe® software, and iMac® and iPad® hardware. It is open to people with interest in computers, technology, science, digital art, and electronics. A combination of a Center for Scholarly Technology, a workshop, and a technology “petting zoo,” the future vision for the space includes the addition of Makerbot replicators, vinyl cutters, Lego builder kits, Makerbot® Mini, an Airwolf® 3D FDM (fused deposition modeling), and likely technology tools that are yet to be invented. An endowment will allow the Library to keep the technology current. The Studio will occupy an expanded space located near the heart of the Information Commons and the Teen Area. A small training lab, collaborative workrooms, and a teen digital media center will complete the suite.

Better Support for WiFi and Laptops

A small laptop designated area in the current library seats 28 at tables with power sources bolted to the tabletops. This popular area is the one location in the building where users can be assured to find power for their personal devices. The entire new building will be WiFi loaded with sufficient power sources available to accommodate users' needs. The program for the new Library includes two laptop-dispensing stations, located in the Circulation Services Area on Level One and the Information Commons on Level Two, which will allow customers to borrow laptops and choose their own location in the Library.


Creating Multi-purpose Spaces

With annual program attendance for the Long Beach Library system at over 408,000, the value of the community meeting spaces cannot be overlooked. The new Civic Center campus will offer a wide variety of meeting and performance spaces including potential use of Council Chambers, food service areas, and small and medium sized meeting rooms distributed around the campus; however, the need for these spaces within the Library's envelope cannot be stressed enough. Programs and events ranging from author talks, Mother's Day crafts, 3D print and design classes, films, teen book clubs, Long Beach Symphony, and Annie Banannie and Magician Abbit the Average, are major to the Library providing community outreach and engaging the community in the Library's programs and services. Off-site presentations do not enhance the Library's exposure to the community.

The program for the new Library includes two adjacent meeting rooms (75 and 70 seats). A well-designed acoustical moveable partition will enable programs up to 145 to meet on site. The Meeting Room suite is completed by a series of smaller conference rooms and storage. The Miller Room is also included to provide convenient access to the lobby gathering area and other meeting spaces nearby. The program includes accomodations for multimedia projection and sound as well as nesting tables and stacking chairs to increase flexibility and facilitate quick reconfiguration of the spaces. The program and plan conveniently locate meeting rooms on the entrance level with adjacent restrooms so they can be available when the Library is closed.

Additionally, the Children's Library includes a Storytime Theatre with an 80-person capacity and its adjacent craft studio with 32 table seats for children's projects. These spaces will be available to parents and children when not being used for Library programs. The craft studio will also accommodate the learning/play activities for the early childhood program with small manipulatives, play stations, and buckets of Legos for creative play similar to the MakerSpace, designed for young children.

Smart Zoning

Individual areas will be distributed to create zones for acoustics, for security and for the proximity of staff assistance. Quieter locations will be the most removed from the paths of travel. The noisier teen area will be located near the larger Information Commons with its 45 public Internet stations and near the public technology training room. The Market Place and the Children's Library will be among the noisiest and most active locations in the building. The Children's Library is zoned with the area for the smallest children adjacent to the Storytime Theater and the crafts area, similar to the current configuration. Each of the areas has a central service point. The Information Commons Desk will have sightlines to a great deal of the upper floor with adjacency to public Internet stations, the Studio MakerSpace, and the ICPD. The Customer Service Desk at the main entrance will maintain security at the Library entrance and have a visual connection to the Market Place.

The Children's Library will have its own desk near the entrance to supervise access to the space. Staff offices and workrooms will be located adjacent to their specific public service area to increase staff efficiency and supervision. The design recognizes that Library customers are often busy, rushed, or arriving near closing time after a long workday. For customers' convenience, high use collections are located most conveniently near the public entrance. Self-service options will include selfcheckout and check in, laptop loan, holds and reserves, patron self-registration, PC booking stations and download stations. DVDs, new books, and other high use media formats will be conveniently located near the entrance to the Library adjacent to the self-check machines and the holds shelves.

The organization of the spaces will provide the Library with the option to offer extended hours for selected services including reserve pick up, materials return, and popular materials. The meeting room complex can be used when the rest of the Library is closed. Another option permits the Market Place to stay open later or open earlier to accommodate picking up holds and reserves and returning materials.

The floor plan allows this area of the Library to be kept open later, open earlier, or on days the Library is not open with minimal staff required. This concept was recently implemented in Walnut Creek (California) where the configuration allows the library to isolate service areas for community convenience and available funding. The Children's Library can be closed allowing larger meeting and programs to spill into the lobby areas after the Library is closed. The Administrative Suite can be secured from the rest of the First Floor when the staff's work day has ended. An exterior customer inlet into the materials handling system will allow customers to return and check in their materials 24/7, a quick transaction not requiring entrance to the building and a quick turnover of parking spaces.

Staff and Operating Costs

Public libraries typically spend upwards of 72% of their operating budgets on staff salaries and benefits packages. Long Beach spends approximately 66% of their total operating expenses on personnel costs and consequently operates with a lean staff. The recent purchase of two self-service machines installed in late spring of 2014 will be supplemented in the new building by another four machines located in the Market Place and Children's Library. Additionally, the number of public service positions required will be reduced, replacing with self-service opportunities where possible; e.g., patron registration, etc. Public service desks will be strategically located with sight lines clearly identified to minimize the number of people required to operate the facility. Four desks require staffing for minimal operations including the Customer Service Desk, the Information Commons, the Children's Desk, and the ICPD Desk. A fifth desk in the Teen Area is available for specific times of the day such as after school.

The Library currently reports 54 FTE staff at Main Library. The program includes 58 workstations representing both individual's workstations and shared task stations such as sorting, processing, and clerical stations.


A smaller, more efficient, building will be less costly to operate. Efficiently housed collections will save space, energy and maintenance. With the uncertain future of print materials, collection space is contained at a smaller percentage of the total square footage. Selfservice options will free valuable staff time for programming and direct customer services. Comfortable seating in a more welcoming environment will increase the appeal of the Library to the neighborhood residents and enhance its value as a community library. The creation of more unique "boutique" spaces will encourage use by families, children, teens, disabled individuals, and non-native speakers. New, creative and unique services and features will draw the entire City to the Library to test drive the MakerSpace, the digital labs, the special collections, and enjoy the many programs the Library sponsors. The technology rich environment will appeal to all ages and abilities in the community while still offering an outstanding circulating collection of print and media.

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