One for the books: Long Beach residents, officials celebrate a homecoming for champions with new library opening

Residents young and old poured into the Billie Jean King Main Library Saturday morning, exploring all the brand new glass and wood paneled building had to offer.

And it has a lot to offer: space for 300,000 books, a junior art studio and STEM-learning lab, dozens of computers, a makerspace, media production lab and a 3D print shop are just some of the areas visitors were most excited about.

Before officials opened the doors, Long Beach legend Billie Jean King spoke to the large crowd, sharing about how her path to becoming an influential woman started on the tennis courts in different parks throughout the city. She mentioned and thanked her first tennis coach and school teachers who helped her on her journey by name.

Billie Jean King waives a Long Beach Poly pompom during the grand opening of the new Billie Jean King Main Library. Photo by Stephen Carr.

King is known as a tennis legend, but she also made a name for herself while advocating for women’s and LGBTQ rights.

King shared how her love for libraries started as a child, when her parents couldn’t afford to buy many new books. She recalled the day her mother handed her a library card saying, “You’ll always be able to read because of this card.”

King has seen the new library twice now, she said, and the best part of it “depends on the person.”

“I just met one of the local artists … and he likes the local art section, so it’s whatever interests you. I’m going to go right to the biographies, I love stories about people,” King told reporters after the main event.

She also shared about how, as a 13-year-old, she decided she needed to join the civil rights movement: She looked around at other tennis players and realized everyone was white.

“I said, ‘Where is everyone else?'” King recalled. After that, she knew she needed to fight for “equal rights for everyone.”

Billie Jean King’s Medal of Freedom on display inside the Billie Jean King Main Library, during the grand opening of the new Billie Jean King Main Library on Saturday. Photo by Stephen Carr.

After the officials cut the ribbon, visitors streamed through the glass doors of the new building. Brothers Miles and Mason Hall were bouncing up and down as they walked up the stairs, excited about the new library. They’d been waiting months for it to be finished, their dad, Sam Hall, said.

Librarians and volunteers were on hand to help people sign up for new library cards. For 8-year-old Laurence Naffa, it’s not his first rodeo: He and his mom and little sister Eloisa love to go to libraries across the Southland to explore and read—Laurence holds about eight library cards now.

“It’s an experience for them. They like to see the open spaces and even the architecture,” their mom, Claudia Naffa, said. “It’s not just read a book and get out.”

The family is from Santa Ana, but of all the libraries they’ve seen, the Billie Jean King Library is by far the best one, Claudia said.

“This is what it’s all about, engaging the kids with real tools and real art,” she said as Laurence and Eloisa explored the new makerspace.

The grand opening of the new Billie Jean King Main Library. The new 92,500-square-foot building is a LEED Gold-certified building of glass and wood, and includes space for about 300,000 books as well as a Family Learning Center, the Center for Adaptive Technology, a Veterans Resource Center, study rooms, meeting rooms, a special collections area, and an extensive children’s area with a storytelling space, an art studio and more. The library’s programs will include financial planning, a citizenship corner, job skills training and literacy services. Photo by Stephen Carr.

Banks of computers for visitors to use are just part of the technological features of the new library. Photo by Stephen Carr.

Adrian Garcia, 6, at the grand opening of the new Billie Jean King Main Library. Photo by Stephen Carr.

Visitors check out the furnishings during the grand opening of the new Billie Jean King Main Library. Photo by Stephen Carr.

Throngs wandered through the first and second floors during the grand opening of the new Billie Jean King Main Library Saturday. Photo by Stephen Carr.

Crowds listened to city officials and the guest of honor during the grand opening ceremonies for the new Billie Jean King Main Library. Photo by Stephen Carr.

Laura Breen, of Long Beach, takes a photo of a photograph of Billie Jean King being given the Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2009. Photo by Stephen Carr.

Renderings of the Billie Jean King signs on display during the grand opening of the new Billie Jean King Main Library. Photo by Stephen Carr.

Billie Jean King’s remarkable journey comes full circle

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Valerie Osier is a breaking news and crime reporter for the Long Beach Post. She’s a Riverside native who found her love for journalism while at community college. She graduated from Cal State University, Long Beach journalism program in 2017 and covered the Palos Verdes Peninsula for the Daily Breeze prior to coming to the Post. She lives in Long Beach with her husband, Steven, and her cat/child, Jones.
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