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Dr. James Bullock talking about the James Webb Space Telescope at Spotlight on Science_no credit needed
James Bullock’s sold-out Spotlight on Science talk, titled “Mysteries of the Universe: From the James Webb Space Telescope”

Newport Beach Public Library Foundation, which helps to support the city library and presents lectures and other programming, is fundraising to build a new auditorium.

By Sharon Stello


Upon entering Newport Beach’s Central Library, look to the left. The wall is covered with the names of hundreds of people who wanted a major library in this city and made a donation to support that goal.

“You will also see names of donors at all three neighborhood branches—folks from the community that believe in libraries and will support that belief with a contribution,” says Jerold Kappel, CEO of the Newport Beach Public Library Foundation.

Guiding much of that giving, the foundation raised $2.2 million to help construct the city’s current Central Library. It has also paid for capital improvements; purchased computers, books, DVDs and other materials to help stock the facility and presented engaging lectures, providing vast support for this local community center. Indeed, foundation support helps to make this a standout resource for the public.

“Visiting authors and speakers that we present are always awed by this library and the intellectual curiosity of the audience,” Kappel says. “This library, not just the Central Library but its three branches—Balboa, Corona del Mar and Mariners—are hubs of activity. There are over 120,000 active borrowers and, annually, over 500,000 library visits and over 850,000 virtual visits [via] the eBranch.

“Libraries are critical to the intellectual, cultural and civic life of communities. People demand libraries because of that. Whether it is young people—come to storytime sometime and see the scores of little people—students of all ages, adults and seniors, they come to the library to be enriched, to study [and] to find out about the world.”

After the Newport Beach Public Library’s new Central Library opened in 1994, the foundation started an endowment the following year. This fund has grown to over $2.6 million, allowing for the addition of media and sound labs, self-checkout machines, new furniture for the children’s area, eBranch materials, GoPro and digital cameras, equipment (including a media converter, drum machine, recording bundle, USB turntable synthesizers and even video gaming consoles), laptops for patron use in the library and much more.

Avocado with Witte Hall Monument Sign
A rendering of the forthcoming Witte Hall

The foundation also presents five programs: the Witte Lecture series, Library Live author talks, Medicine in Our Backyard lectures by UC Irvine doctors on various health topics, financial literacy workshops and a book discussion group. The last three programs are free to the public.

In May, the foundation launched a new series, Spotlight on Science. The first talk was by James Bullock, dean of the School of Physical Sciences and a professor of physics and astronomy at UC Irvine, who gave a lecture titled “Mysteries of the Universe: From the James Webb Space Telescope” to a sold-out crowd. Three programs in this series will be scheduled for next season.

In addition to continuing these programs and providing financial support for the library, the foundation has embarked on a new, communitywide effort to build Witte Hall. This 299-seat auditorium will feature tiered seating levels and state-of-the-art lighting, audio and video technology as well as assistive listening capabilities and a 9- by 16-foot video wall that can be used for lecture presentations and film screenings.

The foundation seeks to raise 50% of the funds needed for the hall’s construction. Thanks to contributions including a lead gift from William Witte and Keiko Sakamoto, the foundation reached its initial goal, but construction bids came in above estimates so fundraising continues. There are still three naming opportunities remaining: the auditorium, the A/V stage manager’s booth and the Green Room.

Kappel, who grew up visiting a branch of the Chicago Public Library, understands the value of these repositories of knowledge. “[It] was a haven where I could roam the stacks and discover a world far beyond my neighborhood,” he says.

As he points out, “libraries are for the public: free, welcoming, nonpartisan, nonsectarian, civic institutions that are so important for the life of a community.” And it takes a community to build and maintain a library. Volunteer opportunities abound and foundation memberships are available for as little as $50. For more information, visit

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