A movement to establish a public library began in 1925. It made the news when a reporter from Long Beach Life expressed dismay about the lack of a library on February 27, 1926, “A stranger to the city might very properly ask, Where is the Public Library? And who would not be ashamed to admit there is no such institution here. Not only is there no public library in Long Beach, but so far as we can learn there is no provisions for the establishment of one.” Though the reporter might not have known it, there were three organizations who were at that moment championing the establishment of a library: The Long Beach Women’s Club, the Long Beach Lions Club, and the Property Owner’s Association.
In January of 1925, the Woman’s Club approached city officials about the need for a library. The attempt was unsuccessful though, so they started a private club library for members only. The Long Beach Lions Club was next, and they successfully started a free library in the Max Peck building at 137 East Park Street in August 1926. Mr. Peck--a Lions Club member--donated the store to house the new library facility, and it was open two afternoons a week. Books were donated by the Lions, and it was staffed by teachers who volunteered their time.
The Lions Club was approached by the Property Owner’s Association to invite all the local organizations, the City of Long Beach, and community members to help form a united library association. The president of the Property Owner’s Association--Mr. Thurman-- advocated for a city-supported library. Laurits Sondergaard, who ran for the School Board, proposed a school district library. The Charter was established, and progress was made. Finally, on January 6, 1926 the Lions Club and the Board of Education agreed on the establishment of a public library that would be voted upon by the taxpayers. On January 30, 1926, at the School Board Election, it was decided that Long Beach would have a Public Library funded by taxation and accessible to everyone.
The Library never owned the 1928 building and couldn’t afford the rent increase without a tax base to support the rising costs. So, in 1934, the Library moved from 124 West Park to 26 West Park, opening its new doors on April 1, 1935. Ten years later they were in the same boat with another substantial rent increase, so the Library moved once again to 462 Park Place and stayed here until 1956. Finally, in 1955, a referendum was passed by the public to find a more permanent home for the library. It was a unanimous vote – 755 to 142, and the plans were sent to Albany for approval. The Main Library permanently relocated to 111 West Park Avenue and opened March 5, 1956. After acquiring the adjacent property, the Main Library underwent a major renovation in 1997. The new attached building featured three floors, and they added a beautiful auditorium which could hold over 200 people, Youth Services Department, an Art Gallery, and meeting rooms.
The Point Lookout Branch of the Long Beach Public Library opened in April 1967 at 50 Lido Boulevard in Point Lookout, New York, and immediately became popular with vacationing NYC summer residents as well as the area’s year-round residents. In 1995, the branch moved to 26B Lido Boulevard. Suffering minimal damage during Hurricane Sandy, the branch reopened a few months after the storm and, in early 2014, moved to its current location at 79 Lido Boulevard. In spring 2017, the Branch celebrated its 50th year with a celebration featuring stories, poems, and refreshments.
The West End Branch of the Long Beach Public Library opened its doors in a storefront at 868 West Beech Street in June 1968. There it remained, a muchloved pillar of the community, until the mid to late 2000s. On March 3, 2009, the Branch reopened in another storefront location, 810 West Beech Street, where it remained until it suffered extensive damage from the floods of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. Two and a half years later, the branch reopened in its third (and current) location, a storefront at 903 West Beech Street.
On October 29, 2012 Superstorm Sandy hit New York, and the Library closed in anticipation of the coming storm. It would not open again until March 27, 2013. More than two feet of water filled the first floor of the Library during Sandy, destroying the floor, all the books on the bottom shelves, the computers…everything. In the aftermath, George Trepp--Director of the Library during Sandy--worked around the clock with staff to restore some basic services to the hard-hit community. Librarians set up a temporary Reference Desk at City Hall to help patrons fill out the essential forms needed to receive aid, answered reference questions, helped with job search, and more.
Sandy wouldn’t be the only challenge faced by the community of Long Beach. On March 13, 2020, the Library was closed with the rapid onset of the worldwide pandemic, COVID-19. Library staff started working immediately on services for patrons quarantined during the NY lockdown. They initiated online programming via Zoom so the community could connect and access exercise classes, discussion groups, meditations, and more. Staff members checked in with isolated community members with weekly phone calls and check in for support and a little conversation. Librarians purchased more eBooks and audiobooks for Libby and Overdrive and provided tech instruction for Kindles, smartphones, and Zoom classes by phone.
The Long Beach Public Library is determined to provide the best of services even in these unprecedented times. We’ve adopted new technologies and streaming services for increased access and better connectivity even if we are miles apart. We will help Long Beach get through this pandemic and continue to grow and be a community center serving the greatest city by the sea.