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Newport library story goes national

Outlets nationwide pick up story, leaving some readers confused about the Balboa Branch's fate.

April 04, 2011|By Mike Reicher, mike.reicher@latimes.com
  • A younster enters the Newport Beach Library's Balboa Branch on a recent afternoon.
A younster enters the Newport Beach Library's Balboa… (DON LEACH, Daily…)

NEWPORT BEACH — Reporters from the "Today" show and Al Jazeera don't call Newport's City Hall too often.

But they did last week after the Daily Pilot and Los Angeles Times published a story that went viral, and in the city's eyes, spiraled out of control. The piece was about the library's Balboa Branch and the city's plan to replace it with an "electronic library" — one without book stacks — at the planned Marina Park community center.

Little did city officials know that the concept of doing away with books would spark the ire of librarians, book lovers and library users around the world. Some even thought that the city was doing away with books at its libraries entirely, which was not the case.

How the story morphed and spread illustrates the power of the modern-day media echo chamber. Ultimately, the city changed its Marina Park plan and added stacks, but some residents are still furious about possibly losing their longtime branch.

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"A lot of us were surprised," Mayor Mike Henn said. "Stories and issues sometimes outrun our ability to appropriately process them."

The Daily Pilot wrote about the March 23 presentation. Editors at the Los Angeles Times, which owns the Pilot, indicated they were interested in running a different version of the story. After some material was added that compared Newport's situation to that of libraries nationwide, and some local references were edited out, the story was posted on the Times' website.

From that point, it spread like burning books.

By Monday morning, the story had been shared nearly 1,500 times on Facebook and Tweeted more than 150 times. News outlets around the country picked it up.

The New Yorker posted a link on its blog, The Book Bench, and said, "The Newport Beach library considers going 'Netflix' and turning into a place where folks can hang out and read books ordered from somewhere else."

Other stories also referred to the "Newport Beach Library," while some like the "Today" show's were explicit about the Balboa Branch. The Times version didn't explicitly state that the Balboa Branch was the one being replaced, and instead referred to it as the "original library." City spokeswoman Tara Finnigan believes this is why some of the national stories were also ambiguous.

Soon, angry readers began to call, she said

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