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One year under the dome

Posted: October 10th, 2014 | Downtown, Feature, Featured, News | No Comments

New Central Library celebrates first anniversary

Jeremy Ogul | Contributing Editor

One year after it opened to the public, the metallic dome of the new Central Library already feels like an indispensable part of the Downtown San Diego landscape.

What happens underneath that iconic and award-winning dome, however, is the real story.

Far more than a warehouse for books, the new Central Library has become a genuine community center, offering everything from career training to after-school tutoring to opera concerts.

A recent Monday evening, some 50 people gathered on the library’s ninth-floor patio under the dome for a free swing dance lesson with local instructor Jackie O’Neil Plys. (Photo by Jeremy Ogul)

A recent Monday evening, some 50 people gathered on the library’s ninth-floor patio under the dome for a free swing dance lesson with local instructor Jackie O’Neil Plys. (Photo by Jeremy Ogul)

As the sun set on a recent Monday evening, for example, approximately 50 people gathered on the library’s ninth-floor patio for a free swing dance lesson with local instructor Jackie O’Neil Plys. This particular lesson focused on the six-count jitterbug.

At the same time, a dozen people sprawled across yoga mats in the Jaffe Mountain View Reading Room on the library’s fifth floor for the weekly “Yoga with Craig” program.

With 497,652 square feet of space across nine floors, the library has created space for all sorts of educational and social programming that was not possible at the old building, said Marion Hubbard, senior public information officer for the San Diego Public Library system.

The spectacular spaces and diverse programs have attracted significantly more people to the library over the past year, she said. Approximately 3,000 people a day visit the Central Library, which adds up to over 1 million visitors for the first year of operation, according to figures maintained by library administrators.

“I think we’ve actually been very pleasantly surprised at the amount of people we’ve had,” Hubbard said. “The interest level has actually exceeded our expectations.”

Book club meetings, author talks, concerts, film screenings, a small business fair and other programs have altogether brought in almost 36,000 adults and more than 23,000 youth in the first year, according to library estimates.

People are also checking out books and other materials at much higher rates. Library staff estimate more than 757,000 materials were checked out in the Central Library’s first year in operation, which represents a 100 percent increase in circulation over the first nine months of the previous year. (The comparison is not exact because the library was closed for three months during the move to the new building last summer.)

The library’s 3-D printers on the eighth floor have also attracted substantial attention from entrepreneurs, hobbyists and those involved in the “maker” movement. The public is welcome to use the printers for free, and the room stays open with the help of dozens of enthusiastic volunteers, said Emerging Technologies Librarian Uyen Tran.

“We’ve learned that the most expensive thing about 3-D printing is time,” Tran said.

A donation jar helps offset the cost of the filament the printers use, but items such as custom cell phone cases can take up to two hours to print, she said.

The creative ways people are using the new library has inspired donors to support the library even further, said Charlie Goldberg, marketing director of the San Diego Library Foundation.

“We see the Central Library as kind of spurring a Renaissance in the entire library system, and we’ve seen the donors agree with that,” Goldberg said.

Despite the overwhelming successes, there are some areas where the new library has fallen short. The ground-floor café, for example, has not yet opened for business, leaving the courtyard space less active and inviting than it could be. Mel Katz, former chair of the Library Foundation, told U-T San Diego last month that the space would be open by Dec. 1.

Locals use the Central Library’s free computer stations.  (Photo by Jeremy Ogul)

Locals use the Central Library’s free computer stations.
(Photo by Jeremy Ogul)

The Hervey Rare Books Room, a 1400-square-foot space on the ninth floor, has also gotten off to a slow start. Hubbard said the shelves are still being finished and will be ready for books and other holdings of the Wangenheim Collection soon.

Budget monitoring reports from earlier in 2014 showed lower than anticipated revenues from the underground parking structure and from room rentals for special events.

Thanks to changes in the budget the city approved for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, the Central Library will be open for an additional five hours a week beginning later this fall. Library managers have not yet determined the new hours of operation and are still working to finalize staffing changes necessary for the longer hours.

The shift to the new facility has left the old Main Library on E Street without a purpose. The city’s budget for the 2014-2015 fiscal year includes a $75,000 transfer to Civic San Diego to find an alternative use for the old Main Library.

The San Diego Public Library Foundation will hold its first fundraising gala, “Celebration Under the Dome,” at the library on Oct. 10. For a $300 donation, guests of the event will enjoy an evening full of literary-themed food, drink and entertainment throughout the library. For more information on that celebration, visit supportmylibrary.org/celebration.com.

—Jeremy Ogul can be reached at Jeremy@sdcnn.com.

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