Berkeley Public Library Foundation builds its fundraising muscles
By Lou Fancher
When a library decides to dress up and make a splash in the community, there's no telling what it can do.
The Berkeley Public Library Foundation recently celebrated the completion of two complete renovations and two remodeling improvement projects at four Berkley Public Library locations. Voters approved Measure FF in 2008, which committed $26 million to the effort, but an additional $3 million-plus was raised by the foundation's 2013 Neighborhood Libraries campaign to equip the refurbished branches with technology, equipment, furniture -- all the nuts and bolts within the newly seismically safe walls. Foundation Executive Director Kathy Huff says the capital project has resulted in a 39 percent increase in use.
The primary engine behind the foundation's fundraising muscle is the annual Authors Dinner, now in its 14th season. The sellout event -- upcoming Feb. 6 and already sold out by mid-January -- features local authors and guests who gather at the central library for a night of fine food, a silent auction and entertainment by literary stars.
Foundation board member Linda Schacht Gage has helmed the event from the beginning. "I love choosing the authors, learning about them, writing the introductions. Every year there are more new writers who are equally fabulous. But it's not just a money raiser, it's a way of letting people know there's a vibrant literary community. That's my favorite part."
Author and journalist Frances Dinkelspiel ("Tangled Vines," "Tower of Gold") is this year's honorary chairwoman at the dinner. After a rousing, anecdote-filled introduction created by Schacht Gage and her co-host, longtime television reporter Bill Schechner, Dinkelspiel says she's likely to tell stories. "I am going to talk for a few minutes about my love for public libraries. I plan to mention the time when I was 16 and my father had just died. We were living in an apartment across the street from the Marina public library in San Francisco. It became my refuge. I went there everyday and read constantly until I could face the world again."
Dinkelspiel's moving narrative will no doubt add momentum to the foundation's next targeted initiative, "It's Time for Central." The $1.8 million project will improve the Central Library's first and second floors with better signage, acoustics, lighting, community gathering rooms and upgrades to the Teen Room.
"In the past 20 years we have witnessed a sea change in what it means to be a library and the kinds of spaces needed," says Huff. "People of all ages need flexible spaces to gather, learn, and grow. Central is less than a block away from Berkeley High School and teens are the largest age group of library users."
Already having raised $300,000 toward a goal of contributing $616,000, Schacht Gage says hopes are that the dinner, auction, donations, and ticket sales for an AfterWORDS program that presents speakers throughout the year will net $150,000.
People who missed the opportunity to buy one of the dinner's $500 tickets (sponsorships climb the ladder with Bibliophile at $2,500 and the $5,000 Belletrist) may still participate through Feb. 5 in the auction online atwww.32auctions.com/AD16.
"We like to make connections between people and authors," says Schacht Gage of the auction. Mentioning a dinner at her home with Robert Reich, a "brews and ball" talk with San Francisco Chronicle sportswriter Scott Ostler and more, she says access-to-authors items are the auction's most sought-after offerings.
If there's a draw to the library itself in a mobile device-loving era, Huff and Schacht Gage suggest it is not so much the renovations as it is the breadth of services. "The library starts babies 6 months old with books, it teaches people to speak English, to use technology--and that's just a sample," says Schacht Gage.
Huff says the definition of literacy has broadened to include cultural exploration on multiple platforms.
Dinkelspiel brings it all back to story, recalling a kindergarten teacher she hadn't seen in 50 years who turned up at a book signing, along with the smiles of children --"They were beaming all night," she says--at another stop on her recent book tour. "I was touched that they came," she says.