“Luminous, inspiring, iconic, the San Diego Central Library is a beacon of knowledge,” said city librarian Deborah Barrow of the new “flagship” of the municipal library system with its 35 neighborhood branches.
The opening of the new downtown central library will be a boon for community libraries like the Pacific Beach/Earl & Birdie Taylor Branch at 4275 Cass St.
“We see ourselves as a system of 36 libraries to serve the entire community,” said PB branch manager Christina Wainwright, a PB resident herself. “I love my local branch, but there’s just some things you’re not going to find here that you’ll find at the central library, which is a much larger facility with specialized librarians in various departments.”
Pointing out the new central library has “fiscal resources available that we just don’t have,” Wainwright said branches and the central library actually complement and accentuate one other.
“We don’t look at it as competition but as support that people in the San Diego region can really take advantage of,” she said, adding the new central library is heightening public awareness about all the educational resources — many free — that are available to them throughout the library system.
“A lot of people I’ve heard from are going to be visiting the downtown library for the first time in a long time,” Wainwright said, adding people getting excited about the new central library is not just good for downtown, but is “helping people get excited about libraries all over, and helping us in Pacific Beach as well.”
At the Sept. 28 dedication, head librarian Barrow said the facility was “30 years in the making” and “a dream come true.”
The new facility replaces the former library at 820 E. St., which was built 57 years ago to serve about 15,000 patrons when the city’s population was less than 500,000. Today, the city’s population is 1.25 million and more than 480,000 people use the central library alone.
Barrow said the new $196.7 million building is centrally located with easy access by freeway, trolley, bus or air.
“Do we need a central library in the age of the Internet?” asked Barrow, answering, “Yes, and we've got one.”
The design of the new, 497,652-square-foot Central Library building at 330 Park Blvd. reflects the input of hundreds of people who participated in a yearlong series of public workshops. Based on their input, the joint-venture team of Rob Wellington Quigley FAIA and Tucker Sadler Architects collaborated on the structure of the building, which includes bay-view terraces, roof gardens, a state-of-the-art auditorium and a public reading room.
Barrow said there’s something for everyone at the new library, whether it’s the children’s library with its Dr. Seuss mural, the beach-themed teen center designed for and by teens, the expansive special-event room or the “beautiful and quiet” library reading room under the landmark latticed dome.
“The San Diego Central Library is poised to nourish hungry minds, connect people to one another and provide a wealth of knowledge,” she said Barrow. “This new library is exactly what San Diego needs.”
SDUSD Superintendent Cindy Marten talked about the significance of the new library in fostering literacy.
“As a teacher I know the importance of literacy and libraries can change lives,” Marten said. “This really is a dream come true for many children and their families to see the conditions created where all children become actively literate, contributing members of society. We need you — and we need this library.”
San Diego Public Library Foundation chairman Mel Katz and foundation members Katie Sullivan, Judith Harris and Jim Dawe received kudos and took a bow for the huge role they played in making the dream of a new downtown library a reality.
“We represent so many people who have worked, talked and dreamed about a central library for the people of San Diego for more than 30 years,” said Katz. “This library is magnificent.”
Katz credited Rob Quigley, the architect chosen for the library project 17 years ago, for doing “an amazing job.”
Characterizing the new library’s design as “uniquely San Diegan,” Quigley said its dome recently won a structural engineering award. He added the building in 30 years “won’t be out of date, but beginning to achieve the dignity of a patina.”
“This is the people's building,” said Katz, pointing out the library has high-speed wireless Internet throughout the building, more than 400 computers and tablets, a TV studio, an art gallery and sculpture court, and even a high school on two floors.
“This truly is a public-private partnership,” Katz said. “Thirty-eight percent of the dollars are here because of 3,000 San Diegans” who contributed to the library fund.
“For all of San Diego, this is your building,” said Katz thanking Qualcomm co-founder and La Jolla philanthropist Irwin Jacobs for his multi-million dollar contributions to the new library.
Jacobs’ generosity has allowed the new library to be “100 percent paid for while costing the same amount to operate as the old building, which is half its size,” said Katz.
The full name of the new facility is The San Diego Central Library at Joan & Irwin Jacobs Common.
“When you see the name spelled out, it merges the old with the new,” said acting mayor Todd Gloria, pointing out the new library name is apropos as common means “a communal gathering place.”
The nearly 80-year-old Jacobs, who grew up in the Boston area, recalled as a child one of his fondest memories was of “my mother taking me on the trolley to the central library and allowing me to take out a stack of books.”
Admitting to looking through the new San Diego children’s library to see if he still “recognized any of the books,” Jacobs commented that the real payoff for the facility will be “seeing it well used.”
The library also has something no similar facility has: career development assistance thanks to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Career Center in Room 555. Made possible through a $400,000 donation, the career center will provide individual and small-group counseling services, resource materials, computer and resume assistance and training workshops to help San Diegans develop the skills and knowledge needed to meet the needs of regional employers. Additional tailored resources and specialized veteran services will also be available.
There are other innovative “firsts” in the library as well. A charter high school on the sixth and seventh floors will eventually have 500 students. The new library features a collection of more than 1.2 million volumes, 60 percent more than the former facility. It supports region-wide student achievement with children and teen areas and a homework center, plus providing a venue for community meetings and gatherings. It will also provide top-quality cultural and educational programming.
Gloria, who emceed the Sept. 28 dedication event, characterized the library as “not only a community unifier but a great equalizer.”
“As the son of a maid and a gardener, I understand why young people need equal access to whatever their peers in school may have,” he said. “Bridging the digital divide will put everyone on an equal plane and open doors to a dream that otherwise might not be possible in our city.”
Gloria implored citizens to enjoy the new library’s artwork in its galleries, its state-of-the-art theater or the incredible views to be had of the city from the People’s Penthouse reading room at the top of the building.
“You're going to love it,” said Gloria of the new library experience.