The Berkeley Public Library Foundation raised $313,000 at its 17th Annual Authors Dinner on Feb. 9, which will fund the improvement of Berkeley library facilities and the promotion of community projects.
The annual event is designed to elevate Bay Area voices and financially support the library. It featured 29 honored authors from diverse backgrounds, including journalists, artists, activists, medical experts, historians and photographers. One of the guests, Nomadic Press founder J.K. Fowler, said such events are important platforms to feature local perspectives and support library fundraising.
“As someone with a harm reduction background … public libraries serve as safe spaces for our community members … spaces where folks can get away from the harsh realities of life (and) dive into books and literature,” Fowler said.
The Berkeley Public Library Foundation, or BPLF — an independent nonprofit community organization — has given more than $7 million in grants over the past two decades to go toward community-oriented library projects that foster multiculturalism, according to BPLF Executive Director Kathy Huff. The money raised at this year’s dinner came from ticket sales, auction proceeds, pledges and donations, Huff said in an email.
The BPLF serves as an “auxiliary organization,” according to Berkeley City Councilmember Sophie Hahn, and is responsible for helping the library undertake special projects. Hahn said that in 2002, for example, the BPLF raised $4.1 million toward a capital campaign for equipment, furniture and light fixtures — expenses not covered by bond money the library receives — in the Central Library branch on Kittredge Street.
“Often, a couple hundred thousand dollars can make a big difference (and) that extra money makes a really big difference for special programs,” Hahn said.
One of the projects this year’s donations will fund is the improvement of the space at the Central Library, adding a new area for teens, upgrading light fixtures and enhancing display cases for public art.
Another project deals with programs geared toward public learning. These programs include the new hands-on STEM project open to individuals of all ages, which is designed to improve scientific literacy, and the Berkeley Builds Readers project, which promotes family literacy.
Although the library receives taxpayer dollars, this state funding often only covers the basic functions of the buildings, such as heating and electricity, Hahn said. She added that maintaining special programs at the library through foundation funding adds value by promoting a “really beautiful, really popular” space, emphasizing the critical role of public libraries in today’s society.
“Information is power, and access to information is a cornerstone of democracy,” Hahn said. “As we see our democratic institutions erode … it’s like the last communal public place for everybody in the community to be welcome.”