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Riford library gets $3 million gift

Even the library is a millionaire in La Jolla.

In a move that has delighted and slightly bemused the Village’s librarians and library patrons, the Florence Riford Library Center, Joan and Irwin Jacobs Library Annex, was recently left an estate worth at least $3.2 million by longtime La Jolla resident Jane Cameron.

The Jewel’s new library is only a little more than a year old. The remodeled complex, which cost $6 million, was largely paid for by private donors and is now recognized as one of the finest libraries in San Diego. The two-level building houses a computer lab, a children’s section, seminar rooms and a spacious community meeting room.

Cameron’s will is fairly explicit as to the intentions behind her gift. In addition to stating that the money is to be used specifically for the La Jolla branch library, the will sets out three broad goals for the bequeathed money.

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“This bequest may be used for the expansion of the La Jolla branch of the San Diego Public Library,” reads Cameron’s will, “for the improvement of the existing library building or for the improvement or maintenance of the collection at the La Jolla branch.”

Obviously, the library has already undergone an extensive expansion. Daniel Weinberg, director of major gifts and philanthropy planning for the city of San Diego, speculated that Cameron, who died last year, may have drawn up this section of her will prior to the recent move.

“It is my guess ... that Ms. Cameron was not aware that the expansion campaign was ongoing at the time,” said Weinberg, “and she had made this provision many years earlier. ... A couple of us snapped our fingers and said ‘Darn, it’s a little late.’ ”

As for Cameron’s second provision, it’s hard to imagine where many improvements can be made to the sparkling new center, which bristles with the latest technology and features exclusively commissioned artwork and sculptures. Weinberg said the money will be used for the upkeep of the building, for repairs or improvements to the structure and the facilities.

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“Improving the existing library building is, right now, a bit undefined for us,” said Weinberg. “Because it’s a brand-new building. I guess if a window fell out or if it was necessary to have more or better ergonomic-type things in there, that probably could fit in there.”

The third provision in Cameron’s will, that of improvement or maintenance of the library’s collection, is easier for those charged with administering the gift to define. The money may be invested or placed in a trust to ensure the library has an almost constant income to call on when updating its collection.

Library fans said this was a top priority.

“Definitely, our library needs more books,” said Marnie Gavit, president of the Friends of La Jolla Library. “There’s no question about it, we need to have more books.”

The gift may also have a ripple effect on other city libraries as the La Jolla branch updates its books and passes on older parts of its collection to other libraries. This is a tactic often employed by the city to ensure the best spread of materials around San Diego’s libraries, and Weinberg said it might serve as a good way to share the wealth of this particular donation. He was in no doubt that this would be within Cameron’s wishes.

“I think,” said Weinberg, “that Ms. Cameron would be very comfortable in her sense of improvement or maintenance of the collection, to think that her funding would enable yet other libraries to have a direct benefit.”

The library’s generous benefactor seems to have been a shy member of the community. Certainly, the gift came as a surprise to the library directors and to many of the library’s patrons. Cameron was well-known as a quiet and reserved visitor to the center and was apparently a fan of crossword puzzles, but nobody seemed to be expecting such a large donation.

“It feels phenomenal,” said Richard Burke, the La Jolla Library branch manager.

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“Who would have dreamed to be head of a branch where such money would be coming in as a gift or an endowment to us?”