The new Downtown library in Long Beach will be the Billie Jean King Main Library when it opens in September after the City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve affixing the tennis star’s name to the recently completed building.
King grew up in Long Beach and went on to an illustrious tennis career but also made a name for herself advocating for women’s rights and for those in the LGBTQ community.
Naming the library after King was first presented in early July and quickly drew praise from most but also some pushback from community members who opposed naming the Main Library after anyone.
The item quickly moved from its introduction in a July 3 statement from Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce, who had conducted a naming survey with the public to gauge its feelings on naming the building, to the City Council, then to the city’s Housing and Neighborhoods Committee last week before Tuesday’s vote to finalize it.
The Billie Jean King Main Library is set to open Sept. 21, and an official naming ceremony to dedicate the building is expected before then. The library is set to open the day after the 46th anniversary of King’s Battle of the Sexes tennis match where she famously defeated Bobby Riggs in 1973.
The last time the city faced a high-profile naming of a library was after the construction of the new North Branch Library.
That process started in mid-December of 2015 when then Vice Mayor Rex Richardson introduced a motion to name the new North Branch Library after then First Lady Michelle Obama.
Richardson’s request mobilized members of the city against naming it after Obama, instead requesting that it be named after a person from Long Beach. The naming of the Michelle Obama Library was not approved until February 2016.
Ellen Butler, a resident of southeast Long Beach and a board member on the Friends of Long Beach Public Libraries, took issue with the naming process for the Main Library, which took less than a month to name a building that took about four years to build.
She questioned if the process had been entirely public, noting the City Council’s prepared remarks at its first hearing on the issue and other public institutions and community members seemingly organized around it at the same time.
“This is not about Billie Jean King who is truly remarkable, but is about the renaming process,” Butler said. “I have grave doubts about the efficacy of it.”
Critics of the move also argued that the library should be named for someone more closely tied to education or literacy and not after someone who is famous and happens to be from Long Beach.
Mayor Robert Garcia and members of the council have focused on King’s fight for equality in education in under Title IX, the law forbids any entity that receives federal funds from discriminating against persons on the basis of their sex.
There are nearly 200 facilities in the city named after persons who served the city in some capacity, but Garcia pointed out that having someone like King’s name on the library would make it unique.
“You can’t find many people’s names on those buildings who are LGBTQ,” said Garcia, who became the city’s first openly gay mayor 2014.
The exterior of the new Main Library is not expected to change much with the addition of King’s name. City officials confirmed during Tuesday’s meeting that signage already in place will remain and that King’s name would “go up at an appropriate place.”
King, who has previously said that she was honored for the consideration, is expected to be in attendance for the naming ceremony before the library’s opening.
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