Library named for former tennis pro Billie Jean King opens

LONG BEACH, Calif. — The grand opening was held Saturday for the Billie Jean King Main Library in Long Beach, which includes space for about 300,000 books along with a Family Learning Center and Veterans Resource Center.

The 92,500-square-foot building replaces the Main Library, which closed earlier this year. It also includes the Center for Adaptive Technology, study rooms, meeting rooms, a special collections area, an extensive children’s area with a storytelling space and an art studio.

The library will also offer programs in financial planning and becoming a U.S. citizen, job skills training and literacy services.

“Today, I’ve come full circle in my return to Long Beach,” King told an audience gathered in front of the library. “Without the people of Long Beach, I never ever would have been able to launch my tennis career and travel the world and have a platform to hopefully make a difference in the lives of others.”

King boasted of her ties to the Long Beach community and her attendance at Long Beach Poly High School. “Go Jackrabbits,” she yelled to the enthusiastic crowd. She said that her father was a firefighter and that her mother was a homemaker on 36th Street in Wrigley Heights. “We were a blue-collar family but my parents taught us that we could be anything we wanted to be; that no dream was too big.”

She said that growing up, she and her brother loved to read but couldn’t afford to buy books, then shared a story about how her mother gave her something very special — her first library card. “That made such a difference in our lives,” she said, adding that she loved reading biographies.

The Long Beach City Council voted July 23 to name the library for King, who was born in Long Beach and raised in the Wrigley neighborhood. She began playing tennis on Long Beach’s public courts as a fifth-grader, won the Wimbledon women’s doubles title at 17 years old, the first of her 39 Grand Slam singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles.

“King is a national treasure who credits our city for part of her success,” said Long Beach City Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce, who introduced the motion to name the library for King and whose district includes the library. “I know her commitment to equity and justice will ensure our library system is representative of everyone.

“Many people improve their lives inside a library. From the knowledge they extract in books, to the power of imagination and creativity, the relationships built within the community of a library provides an opportunity for all people to grow. Libraries are where people go to fill their toolbox with resources needed to persevere and learn about courage, grit and equality.”

The ceremony came one day after the 46th anniversary of King’s victory over Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes” match.

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