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Feels Like Home: Save the Books! - Part 10

James Sherman, Librarian, Literature & Fiction Department,
Graphic with Feels Like Home book cover
Chapter Four: Part Two in a series of excerpts serializing the book, Feels Like Home

This post is the tenth in a series of excerpts serializing the book Feels Like Home.

Chapter 4

Save the Books! - part 2 by Sheryn Morris - Librarian, Literature & Fiction Department

Strageties and Plans

The goal of Save the Books was “to raise $10 million in gifts and pledges to replace and enhance the collections burned or damaged in the original fire; to increase public awareness of Central Library; to build a constituency for future philanthropic support of Central Library.” In order to do this a “two-prong campaign” was to be enacted: major donor solicitation and general public appeal.

The campaign definitely needed the expertise of the two reference librarians: Judy Ostrander’s knowledge of businesses and directory resources, and Sheila Nash’s knowledge of arts resources, both books, and people. According to Judy, “Sheila Nash really knew the entertainment industry and the arts community (theatre, music, visual artists). She knew specific individuals who would be asked to participate.”

The following campaigns and strategies were developed and implemented:

  • Tom Yerxa, a staff artist, helped create a logo; press kits; bookmarks and bumper stickers; brochures; and slide/video presentations.
  • A speakers’ bureau of twelve librarians trained by ARCO, and armed with professionally designed packets of information and slide presentations, were sent out to speak to the public.
  • A Save the Books gift shop was created with the first one in the lobby of the ARCO tower, and later another in the temporary library facility on Spring Street. Kiosks, built by the ARCO staff, were placed in other parts of downtown. A color catalog of items was published.
A variety of Save the Books merchandise
A variety of Save the Books merchandise was made available for purchase as an additional fundraising activity. (Los Angeles Public Library Institutional Collection)
A variety of Save the Books merchandise set up in a lobby
Save the Books merchandise was available for mail order, but there were also stores set up in the ARCO building and in the temporary Central Library on Spring Street, pictured here. (Renny Day & Bob Day, Los Angeles Public Library Institutional Collection)
  • December 1986, J. W. Robinson Department Store on 7th St. and Grand had all of its ground floor display windows decorated with “Save the Books” displays. Mrs. Tarlton and Mrs. Nash, mothers respectively of Judy Ostrander and Sheila Nash, helped with the displays.
  • There was a telethon, a radiothon...
Televangelist Gene Scott offered up his studio space for a 48-hours
Televangelist Gene Scott offered up his studio space for a 48-hours Save the Books telethon which his University Network co-sponsored with ARCO. Pictured at the telethon from left to right are: ARCO Chairman and CEO Lod Cook, Central Library Director Betty Gay, Assistant City Librarian Tom Alford, Library Commissioners Martha Katsufrakis, Ronald Lushing, City Librarian Wyman Jones, and Gene Scott. (Los Angeles Public Library Institutional Collection)
Jubilant participants are pictured during the 1987 Save the Books telethon
Jubilant participants are pictured during the 1987 Save the Books telethon. $2 million dollars in pledges were made during the 48 hours, but around half that amount was actually collected. (Los Angeles Public Library Institutional Collection)
  • ...and a walkathon.
a downtown billboard with a phone number
AM/PM and K-EARTH 101 PM sponsored a Save the Books walk-a-thon in December 1986. Here, a downtown billboard encourages community members to participate. (Los Angeles Public Library Institutional Collection).
Walk-a-thon participants near the Hope Street entrance of the Library
Walk-a-thon participants stream past the Hope Street entrance of the shuttered Central Library. (Mike Sergieff, Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection)
  • By way of the Los Angeles Times, columnist Jack Smith helped to promote an essay contest, sponsored by KABC Talkradio and PAN AM which had an astounding response.
Flyer for a Save the Books essay contest
KABC Talkradio and PAN AM sponsored a Save the Books essay contest which resulted in a printed compilation. (Los Angeles Public Library Institutional Collection)
  • Loderick Cook and Mayor Tom Bradley helped form a Save the Books Blue Ribbon Committee.
  • A joint United Kingdom/Los Angeles Gala pushed funding over the top, with an appearance by Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson.
  • A holiday card was created. It was an elegant simple line drawing silhouette of the proposed building: the original building and the extended addition as viewed from street level with the following message inside:

Season’s Greetings on the eve of a new year—
a time for each of us to turn a page in the book of life.
But at the Los Angeles Central Library,
there are 400,000 books with pages we cannot turn;
they are in ashes, victims of an arsonist.
In this season of rebirth, we
want to share with you the opportunity to restore
this collection to usefulness for everyone in our community.
We wish you and yours a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year
—and we hope you remember
the Central Library collection
in this season of giving.

A donation form was included in with the card, and money was sent from all over the country and the world.

line drawing of the library
This simple, elegant artwork was used on a mass-mailed holiday card that resulted in over $135,000 in donations to the Save the Books campaign. (Graphic courtesy of Judy Ostrander) 
  • A Collection Endowment Fund (for contributions of $25,000 or more) was established with benefactors’ names on bookplates, many of which can still be found in books at Central Library. Named collections include:

Architecture and Landscape Design: Maguire/Thomas Partners
Banking and Finance: Bank of America Foundation
Children’s Picture Books: Security Pacific Foundation
Civil Engineering: The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation
Education: Milken Family Foundation
Environmental Science and Technology: Southern California Gas Company
Humor: KABC Talkradio
International Picture Book Collection: The Riordan Foundation
Motion Pictures: Mr. & Mrs. Lew Wasserman, MCA
Opera, Operetta and Musical Theater: Lloyd E. Rigler and Lawrence E. Deutsch
Real Estate: Ronald Lushing
Small Business: Union Bank Foundation
Unpublished Plays: Audrey Skirball-Kenis Theater

  • A Library Foundation was established to support Central Library collections after Save the Books concluded.


What was lost at the great library in Alexandria, Egypt is gone. What was lost at the Central Library, for the most part, has been replaced due to the diligence and dedication of numerous LAPL staff who worked on the documentation and organization of destroyed and damaged books; the initial and immediate response of people who came out in the hundreds to help sort, label and box books; and to the rapid response of a large private foundation that became the very model of a good neighbor to a large public institution.

the central library with a sign of thanks
A sign on the shuttered Central Library expresses thanks for community support. (Los Angeles Public Library Institutional Collection)

The Los Angeles Fire Department stopped the fire. Carlton Norris and Lodwrick Cook quickly stepped forward. These two leaders helped initiate a professional and well-organized campaign to raise money that would be directly aimed at the purchase of lost materials (books, journals, newspapers). Through their professional planning, they revived community interest in a major public library and its unique collection. Carlton Norris stated, “ARCO can easily give the library a check for 10 million dollars, but we want the people of this city to be part of this great endeavor”.

Save the Books came about in a time of great need. What felt like an ending on that ordinary day, April 29, 1986, turned into a community’s renewed interest in a major informational and educational treasured resource, which continues to this day. The people of Los Angeles were awakened. Strategies and procedures were in place for what would follow, but that is a story for another time.

Sheryn Morris, Reference Librarian II, works at LAPL's Central Library, Literature & Fiction Department, and is the editor/contributor for LAPL Reads. Past work: Children's Librarian, Beverly Hills Public Library and Los Angeles Public Library; adult reference librarian at Palos Verdes Library District, Redondo Beach Public Library, Long Beach Community College; catalog reconversion project at UCLA; management of law firm libraries; and substituted for numerous public library systems in Los Angeles County. As a Children's Librarian, she was a storyteller; as a Reference Librarian she regularly was invited to present book reviews for adults at public and private institutions.

Feels Like Home: Reflections on Central Library: Photographs From the Collection of Los Angeles Public Library (2018) is a tribute to Central Library and follows the history from its origins as a mere idea to its phoenix-like reopening in 1993. Published by Photo Friends of the Los Angeles Public Library, it features both researched historical accounts and first-person remembrances. The book was edited by Christina Rice, Senior Librarian of the LAPL Photo Collection, and Literature Librarians Sheryn Morris and James Sherman.The book can be purchased through the Library Foundation of Los Angeles Bookstore.