Letter to the Editor: Why the Lecture Hall is Needed

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The view from the back of the Friends Room at the Central Library during a Witte Lecture event in March
— Photo by Paul Watkins ©

In a recent letter, Mr. Bob McCaffrey opposed the proposed Library Lecture Hall at the Newport Beach Central Library. Mr. McCaffrey complained about its cost and questioned the need for a Lecture Hall. He suggested that, instead, Council Chambers or Community Room be used.

Previously, Mr. McCaffrey suggested that the auditoriums at Newport Harbor or Corona del Mar high schools be used without bothering to ask Newport-Mesa about his plans for their facilities. NMUSD Superintendent Dr. Frederick Navarro emailed that the idea was “not pragmatic” due to already heavy overuse by the high schools and local elementary/middle schools. Mr. McCaffrey has also suggested Oasis Senior Center.

Mr. McCaffrey’s latest proposed alternative sites for the high-profile speakers, presentations, and performances contemplated for the new Lecture Hall ignores that the groups that raise funds for and are instrumental in securing the programming are Library-centric groups. They love Libraries and are motivated by their desire to ensure our Library system continues to be the “cultural, educational and informational heart of the City.” They believe that better facilities mean better programming opportunities.

Here’s what else Mr. McCaffrey failed to consider:

  1. The cost of the Lecture Hall will be a private-public partnership where half of the cost will be raised by Library supporters. Speaking of costs, Library staff who also perform other functions at the Library cannot be efficiently utilized for the planning and executing of events if the events are not actually at the Library.
  2. The Newport Beach Public Library Foundation (with offices located at the Central Library) seeks to attract world class speakers, presentations, and performers, many of whom expect to discuss their books or other scholarly work at a Library. For example, the first speaker for the 2019-20 Witte Lectures is internationally renowned presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. And sometimes events like Ms. Goodwin’s draw more people than the Friends’ Room, the Council Chambers, or the Community Room will hold; the Lecture Hall is currently planned for approximately 275 seats with overflow capacity of an additional approximately 50 seats. A recent Library “needs assessment” reflects a nearly 30 percent attendance increase over a short four-year period. The Foundation and its many supporters are closely aligned with the location and operations of the Central Library, not with the high school auditoriums, not with the Oasis Senior Center, and not with the Council Chambers or Community Room. Beyond the Witte Lectures, it is expected that Library Live, Wake Up Newport, Speak Up Newport, and other community and outside groups will regularly use the Lecture Hall with revenue generation possibilities.
  3. The Lecture Hall will be designed with permanent comfortable seating. The floor design of the Hall will be sloped (i.e., inclined) from back to front for excellent line of sight to the stage from each seat in the Hall. Neither the Community Room, nor the Event Center at the Oasis Senior Center (nor for that matter the Friends’ Room) offers fixed comfortable seating or a sloped floor which preserves all-important sight lines. And needless to say, Mr. McCaffrey’s Council Chambers’ suggestion ignores the fact that the Chambers have a permanent dais at the front which disqualifies the Chambers as a reasonable option for theatrical, musical, or like performances.

The proposed Library Lecture Hall will complete the Central Library campus and allow the Library, its affiliates, and outside groups to offer world class speakers, presentations, and performances.

Paul Watkins
Newport Beach Board of Library Trustees Vice Chair

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