Cordelia Howard – 1969-1998, City Librarian 1983-1998

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Cordelia Howard – 1969-1998, City Librarian 1983-1998

Long Beach Public Library Foundation

Memories of the founding 1994-98

Cordelia Howard, City Librarian 1983-1998

Some background: In 1983, after 14 years with Long Beach Public Library, I was appointed Director of Library Services. At that time the department was made up of the Long Beach Public Library (Main Library and 11 branch libraries) and the Historic Sites (Rancho Cerritos and Rancho Los Alamitos). The Telecommunications Bureau which managed the City’s cable franchise and cable TV channel joined the department in 1986. In 1994 the Historic Sites were transferred to Parks, Recreation and Marine because it would give them access to more bond money than the DOLS could provide. The Telecommunications Bureau moved to the General Services Department in 1996 so, during the 15 years I was Director; I had the library alone for only two years.

Early on, as Director, one of my major goals was to establish a non-profit foundation for the library that would serve as a fundraising arm. Much easier said than done! The Library had suffered some very rocky times during the ’80’s and ’90’s. The Library had lost more than $1 million of its budget and the material budget had been decimated. The majority of our money had gone to Police and Fire. Interestingly, both department Chiefs apologized to me repeatedly for having the Library’s money transferred to their departments.

Dark times: The Library budget had been drastically reduced and as a consequence, staff, public hours of operation and the book budget were painfully cut. Fortunately, help came in the person of Margaret Durnin. Margaret had been president of the Friends of the Library twice during the 1980’s. She had a background in education and was especially interested in children’s services. With her experience on the Friends Board Margaret was very aware of the challenges the Library faced and we had often talked about the need for a non-profit foundation.

Margaret Durnin

In 1994 Margaret participated in Leadership Long Beach. Her project for LLB focused on reviving the bookmobile to bring library services to the underserved areas of the city, especially North Long Beach. She was absolutely committed improving library services and access. The bookmobile did not come about. Service at all 12 of our libraries had been so drastically reduced that I felt the Foundation should focus on improving (but not replacing) service in our existing libraries before taking on a bookmobile.

Meanwhile, I had been attending every single meeting on setting up non-profit foundations that ALA, CLA and the State Library offered. In our discussions, we both realized that the Library could not do this alone. With my grateful and enthusiastic support, Margaret gathered a few like-minded library supporters who were willing to devote the considerable time and effort it would take to create a library foundation from the bottom up. We started holding meetings, exploring the possibility of setting up a non-profit foundation.

Some of the earliest supporters were Dr. Carl Shaffer who had experience with fundraising in Pasadena, Helene Belisle, Robert Campbell, a longtime Bay Shore patron, Bob Kirkpatrick, Bill Marmion from LBUSD, Indira Hale Tucker, committed to service to the African American community, and attorney George Murchison. They were later joined by Dr. Tom Clark former City Councilman and great library advocate whose wife Lois was the Medical Librarian at Community Hospital and a member of the California Library Services Board, Rich Archbold from the Press Telegram, Beryl O’Kelley Brooks, Dr. Frances Grover from UCLA, attorney Cheryl Avrom, Helena Lusk, accountant, Dr. Darrell Cannon and Tom Reep.

We were starting out from scratch. We knew where we wanted to go but we weren’t sure how we were going to get there. It was a bit daunting but we persevered. I would bring all the information I’d collected at various meetings and presentations I’d attended. In addition several of the team visited libraries that had non-profit foundations to talk with their Foundation directors and staff: I recall Pasadena and Newport being two.

Beverly O’Neill was Mayor at the time and had a real understanding and commitment to the library. She sent her right hand, Diane Jacobus, to join our group. Diane was a dedicated, life-long library supporter and had important contacts in Long Beach which proved to be of enormous help as we moved ahead.

About 1995 we felt confident enough to apply to the State for non-profit status as a 501C3. What an exhilarating day when we were formally granted our 501C3; September 19, 1996! We had struggled so hard to get the Long Beach Public Library Foundation off the ground and now it was a reality! I was overjoyed (and still am!). This really was a dream come true for me thanks to a great team of hard working supporters who made this happen!

LBPL Foundation Executive Director, Sara Myers; Sy Alban; Margaret Durnin; Mrs. Long Beach, Kymmie Cloughsey; Charley Durnin, and Reva Alban – 2013 Grape Expectations.

Margaret Durnin was appointed President and now we had to fulfill the Foundation’s mission to supplement but not replace the funding the Library received from the City. Tom Clark was insistent that the wording in our mission statement clearly indicate that the Foundation would supplement but not supplant the City’s responsibility to provide funding for library operations including the materials i.e. book budget.

Where would our initial seed money come from? Jane Bradley a former children’s librarian had committed (I think) about $30K. Diane Jacobus was busy working her contacts when one day I got a phone call. Beth Terrell, Executive Secretary, stuck her head in my door and said, “Chord, there’s a man on the phone who wants to donate some money to the Friends to buy books in his wife’s memory. I think you’d better talk to him.” Normally such a call would have gone to one of the Managers; either Doris or Eleanore. I still don’t know how Beth knew this call was different.

I took the call from Ken Slaybaugh and we had a nice chat. It turned out that Ken was not a library user but his late wife was an avid reader who went to El Dorado almost weekly. I had been Branch Librarian at El Dorado in the 1970’s so we chatted some more. Finally I broached the subject of just how much Mr. Slaybaugh was considering donating to the Friends. Usually the maximum this sort of memorial gift was not more than $500. “Oh, he said, “I thought we’d start with about $30-35K.” After I picked myself up off the floor I told Ken that was a good deal more than the Friends could handle. I told him about the new non-profit Library Foundation which was set up to handle just this sort of donation. I asked if Margaret Durnin, the Foundation president could call him, took down his phone number and immediately rang Margaret who, fortunately, was home. “Margaret, I’ve got a live one! He wants to donate $30+ for starters. Please, please call him right now!” She did and Ken Slaybaugh practically became a member of Margaret’s family. He found a second home at the Library, with Aaron Day taking him all around the city with the Junior Friends of the Library. I don’t know how much money Ken eventually gave the Foundation but his generosity made a huge difference to our fledgling Foundation.

By the time I retired in October 1998, the Foundation was off the ground, close to hiring its first Executive Director, Gene Richey, and had begun to focus on identifying it’s goals which turned out to be the Family Learning Centers, now in all 12 libraries.

Now the Foundation holds its annual fundraiser “Grape Expectations” each June and has raised millions of dollars which go right back to the Long Beach Public Library. I am so proud!