The Billie Jean King Main Library in Downtown Long Beach is slated to get improvements to its southern terrace that will likely include an outdoor children’s play area and patio-style meeting areas that would be accessible only by going through the library.

The city says the construction will “enhance the usability of the open space” around the library, which is often occupied by unhoused people and their belongings. Council members have already approved $723,000 in funds left over from a previous year’s budget to help pay for the improvements.

The project is still being designed, but Director of Library Services Cathy De Leon said people will only be able to access the new areas by entering through the library first.

She said the areas won’t be surrounded by a fence, but there will be some kind of enclosure limiting access from outside.

“It’s challenging because you want to be creative and you don’t want to create this feeling of fencing things off, but the reality is that you have to mark out the space so that it’s only accessible from the inside of the library,” De Leon said.

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Long Beach has struggled at times to balance safety at its libraries with keeping access open to all. Some branches, including the Billie Jean King Library, have been temporarily closed over the past few years due to growing concerns about disruptive behavior from some patrons.

The City Council is expected to vote on an updated code of conduct for city libraries in the coming months, something that could make it easier to ban people from using public libraries in the city.

The additions being considered for the Downtown library likely won’t drive the unhoused population away from the site, but it could limit the amount of space where people can sleep or congregate under the library’s terrace.

A homeless man and others sleep on the turf of Lincoln Park next to the Billie Jean King Library in Long Beach, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023. The city is planning improvements to the southside terrace of the library. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

De Leon said that adding a new children’s play area could help bolster existing library programs, such as its story time program that brings in toddlers and school-aged children. The play area would be outside the southwest corner of the library near the room where story time is held.

Outside the southeast corner of the library is where De Leon said a new outdoor patio seating area could be built.

The design process will continue over the next few months. While the city had been planning this for a while, there wasn’t a clear picture of what the budget would be until earlier this month.

De Leon said the library could still seek additional grant funding to expand the budget, but what ultimately gets built will depend on the costs. De Leon said that the city and the design team are committed to making the additions look seamless.

They may use planters or posts in place of a fence to limit access from outside the library. De Leon said she’d also like to include new landscaping.

“In the end, we are very cognizant that it’s a really beautiful building and we want to maintain that,” De Leon said. “We know how people value the architecture of the building.”

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.