Champion of Literacy, Renee Simon
National Friends of Libraries week gives us the opportunity to celebrate some of the most dedicated volunteers and supporters of our country’s public libraries. As the 14th annual celebration begins on October 20, we would like to take the opportunity to recognize a founder of the Friends of the Long Beach Public Library and member of our Library Foundation Board of Directors, Renee Simon, for her incredible service to the City of Long Beach and devotion to the Library.
Renee’s work in Long Beach is one that has made a difference for so many who rely on city services. Renee and her husband Harry first moved to Long Beach in 1950 after Renee earned her master’s degree in science from Stanford University. Although she worked as a chemist, Renee has always had a deep love of literature and writing that guided her and her family to the Long Beach Public Library. She would go on to become one of the founders of the Friends of the Long Beach Public Library during a trying fight against censorship.
In 1962, The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis was challenged at the Long Beach Public Library. The Director of Library Services at the time, Blanche Collins, spoke before the City Council of the importance of not censoring the Library’s collection. Literacy supporters, including Renee, joined Blanche at this meeting and the book was not removed from shelves. These library supporters mobilized and on December 8, 1963, the Friends of the Long Beach Public Library held their first formal meeting. The Friends have grown exponentially since then and continue to advocate and fundraise for important Library programs to this day.
Renee earned her master’s degree in library science at UCLA in 1966 while continuing to support the Library. She also chaired the El Dorado Park Development Committee and played a big role in the creation of the park as it exists today. The committee worked with several organizations to place a tax on the ballot to develop the park. Voters approved a small increase in their property tax for ten years to fund the development of the park, golf course, and the Nature Center.
Renee’s next move in service to the City of Long Beach would be her election to the City Council in 1972 representing the 3rd District. Renee was only the second woman elected to the Council and the only woman on the Council during her terms. As a Councilmember, Renee’s work in land use helped shape how our city developed in many different areas.
At the last City Council meeting in the previous City Hall on July 23, 2019, Mayor Robert Garcia recognized Renee saying, “(She) is an incredible advocate to this day of education and our libraries. And (she) is always, not just here, but behind the dais speaking to those of us who have built friendships and mentorships with Renee.”
After her City Council service, Renee accepted a teaching post in Public Policy and Administration at California State University, Long Beach and then served as Deputy Director for Transportation Planning for the Southern California Association of Governments. She has been involved with several nonprofit organizations besides the Library Foundation and the Friends of the Library, including the Long Beach Arts Council, the Long Beach Symphony and International City Theater. One her most dedicated roles as a volunteer is her services since 1991 on the Archstone Foundation Board of Directors. Renee was instrumental in the process of that Foundation changing its focus to meeting the needs of the aging population and helping elders live safe, independent lives.
Renee has also authored the following books, all available at the Long Beach Public Library: Destination Long Beach: The Queen Mary Story, The Long Beach Water Department: A Historic Perspective, 1945-2000, Music Looks Forward: The Long Beach Symphony Orchestra, 1934-2009, Long Beach Transit: 50 Years Of Moving Our Community Forward, and her latest book, Our Own Big City: Long Beach And Its Decade Of The 1970s.
Forever a friend to our libraries, we thank Renee for her nine years of service to the Library Foundation Board of Directors and the difference she has made in the lives of countless Long Beach residents.
Learn more about the Friends of the Long Beach Public Library at