Mayor James K. Hahn has tapped 30-year city librarian Fontayne Holmes to head the Los Angeles Public Library and its 71 branches, a system that serves a larger population than any library system in the country.
Holmes, named to succeed Susan Kent, has overseen the popular 15-year drive to build and renovate more than 60 branch libraries in neighborhoods from San Pedro to Woodland Hills.
Kent is leaving the city library system after nearly 10 years to become director of the New York Public Library next month. Although New York has more than double the population of Los Angeles, it is divided into three library systems.
Kent has been credited with making the Central Library one of the city's foremost cultural institutions as well as planning the branch library construction program. She was among the city's most popular public servants.
Hahn and others said Holmes, 61, would continue the strong leadership of the growing library system.
"I'm delighted," Kent said of Hahn's pick. "Fontayne is probably more familiar with people in the city and in the neighborhoods than anyone. She's a dynamo."
Holmes' appointment, which Hahn announced Tuesday, must be confirmed by the City Council. The council will also set her salary.
A West Los Angeles native who lives in Agoura Hills, Holmes began her career in the Los Angeles Public Library as a messenger clerk while in high school and worked her way through UCLA as a clerk typist at the Robertson branch library.
She joined the library staff full time in 1975 after working five years as school librarian for the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Since 1989, Holmes has overseen the bond-funded, $317-million effort to renovate or replace 61 branches citywide, the most ambitious library construction program in the country.
The program has finished libraries ahead of schedule and under budget, allowing the city to build additional branch libraries with the savings.
"She's a terrific selection," said Library Commission President Robert Chick, who credited Holmes with the success of the building program. "The mayor has absolutely chosen the right person for the job."
Holmes, who plans to open seven branch libraries in the next six months, said she hopes to continue to bring more people into the new libraries. "We have expanded access," Holmes said. "But we need to build on that and continue to reach out to people."
Last year, library patrons checked out 15 million items.