Commentary: Newport Beach Library gives back what it receives

Before passing from this Earth as one the richest people in history, Andrew Carnegie funded about 3,000 public libraries across the world. He once stated that there "is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the free public library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration."

Mr. Carnegie's philanthropic and democratizing ideals live on over a century later. The Newport Beach Public Library system remains world-class and attracts about 1.2 million physical visitors and 1.4 million virtual visitors each year. Our public library serves around 142,000 active borrowers, has around 249,000 physical books, 13,000 electronic books, and rents electronic devices on which those books can be read.

Beyond the numbers, we are a blessed community where leaders and volunteers have long supported our public libraries. Appointed by the Newport Beach City Council, the Board of Library Trustees is a policy-making board responsible for the administration of city libraries.

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Even with a generous level of public support, our libraries — especially the Central Library — would not offer nearly the same quality of services and programs without philanthropic organizations. The Friends of the Library have donated time, talent and money to the library since 1957. As the vision of the library system grew, donors formed the Newport Beach Public Library Foundation in 1989 as a public-private partnership with the city.

Volunteers also provide remarkable free literacy services to adults who live or work in the Newport Beach area. Homebound residents can also apply for service through the library to ensure that they receive personal attention and book delivery and pickup. Teenage volunteers also provide much-needed services to our younger children, including assisting with the Summer Reading Program, and through the Young Adult Advisory Council.

Children, of course, remain priorities at all branches. Librarians developed the "1,000 Books Before Kindergarten" program to equip children for school-readiness. Storytimes for all ages occupy each of the branches, but are most prevalent in the Stahr Children's Room. And don't forget about the Bunnies & Books for Kids Festival on May 13.

This article would be remiss not to mention the exceptional educators and authors attracted to our city each year by the Witte Lectures and the Medicine in Our Backyard series. This season marks the Witte Lectures' 20th year, where dozens of preeminent speakers have presented, including Andy Rooney, Tom Brokaw, Robert Gates and Jeffrey Toobin.

Any person reading this article knows the value of literacy. Please consider helping fellow citizens through the myriad programs and volunteer opportunities presented. And, of course, thank your local librarian.

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WILL O'NEILL is a Newport Beach City councilman serving District 7.

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