For a $1-million donation you could have a Los Angeles branch library named after you, your kid sister or your company. For $2 million, a regional library.
That's the promise of a program the Los Angeles City Council approved Tuesday despite the objections of some who rankled at the notion of letting wealthy donors rewrite the city's place names.
But others see the program to recognize the philanthropic-minded as a key financing tool in the fight to expand library services--after years of fiscal deprivation--and to keep Angelenos literate.
"To deny these resources to the community would, indeed, be unfortunate," said Councilwoman Rita Walters, who chided the naysayers and championed the program that emerged in recent months from a Library Commission appointed by Mayor Richard Riordan, himself a well-known philanthropist.
Library Commission President Gary Ross, a screenwriter, said he had high hopes for the program, although no large donors are waiting in the wings.
It's an old idea, but one that works, Ross said.
"The best, latest example is the (David) Geffen endowment of the Westwood playhouse (at UCLA) that's been named after him," the commission president said, while recalling that 19th-Century industrialist Andrew Carnegie had scores of libraries named after him because of his bibliophilic donations.
But others, such as council members Nate Holden and Jackie Goldberg, said they had deep qualms.
"It seems to me like we're going to end up with the Crest toothpaste and Coca-Cola libraries," Goldberg said, even as she acknowledged that the library system has been badly hurt in recent years by budget cuts.
Holden was even more dramatic, warning that the program could result in libraries being named after people of ill repute seeking to memorialize themselves. "The libraries are not for sale," Holden said. "Basing it on money is too exclusionary."
But Walters said such fears were exaggerated.
Under the city program, 53 branch libraries and eight regional libraries are available to be renamed--depending on the size of the gift.
Of these libraries, the lion's share now have place names. Only eight are named after people. The honored range from the well-known, Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain, to Felipe de Neve, the Spanish governor who founded Pueblo de Los Angeles in 1781.
Ross and Susan Goldberg Kent, the city's new chief librarian, insisted that Twain and de Neve would not be easily bumped off by parvenu entrepreneurs with big bucks or that other libraries would have their names removed in favor of people who are simply slinging cash to buy a piece of immortality.
"We are going to be very sensitive to the community around a library (that's targeted for renaming)," Ross said in an interview Tuesday, noting that the measure approved Tuesday requires community involvement. "Not only can we say no to a donor, but the guidelines say the council and the mayor can, too."
Under the program, the money would be donated to the Library Foundation of Los Angeles, the library system's nonprofit fund-raising arm that has raised $6 million since it was established in 1992.
From the foundation, 75% of the money would go to the library system and 25% will go toward the improvement of services at the newly christened facility, Goldberg Kent said.
The formula is designed to ensure that wealthier areas of the city--where more donors might be expected to try to help their local libraries--will not benefit exclusively from the philanthropy, Ross said.
Two libraries already are named after financial benefactors--the Frances Howard Goldwyn Public Library in Hollywood and the Donald Bruce Kaufman Library in Brentwood.