Flagship facility melds past with future
By Dave Schwab | SDUN Reporter
and Anthony King | SDUN Editor
Bands played and children sang while the entire San Diego region celebrated the newly completed Central Library, with opening ceremonies and a dedication led by Interim Mayor Todd Gloria on Sept. 28 and thousands of visitors on the branch’s first open day, two days later.
Following an 11 a.m. ceremony on Sept. 28 marked by speeches, singing from the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus and a color guard, several hundred celebrants stood in long lines to get a sneak peek of the new nine-story, 504,000-square-foot, $196.7-million facility. Afterward, guests were treated to a family friendly street festival from 12 – 6 p.m.
With its gleaming silver dome as a backdrop, librarian Deborah Barrow described the towering structure as “luminous, inspiring and iconic,” while characterizing the new flagship of the municipal library system with its 35 neighborhood branches as “a beacon of knowledge,” she said.
“Thirty years in the making, it is a dream come true,” Barrow said, adding that the new facility, which is more than double the size of its predecessor, is centrally located, with easy access by freeway, trolley and public transportation.
“The San Diego Central Library is poised to nourish hungry minds, connect people to one another and provide a wealth of knowledge,” she said. “This new library is exactly what San Diego needs.”
San Diego Public Library Foundation chair Mel Katz and Foundation members Katie Sullivan, Judith Harris and Jim Dawe were honored for the role they played in making the dream 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,” Katz said. “This truly is a public-private partnership. … Thirty-eight percent of the dollars are here because of 3,000 San Diegans.”
Katz also credited Qualcomm co-founder and philanthropist Irwin Jacobs for his multi-million dollar contributions to the new library, which is now “100 percent paid for,” Katz said, something that will allow it to operate at the same cost as the previous facility, though double its size.
In May, Library Commissioner Susan Atkins spearheaded a fundraising campaign through the Foundation with the goal to raise $150,000 from the LGBT and ally community, in part to help expand the LGBT collection and provide financial support to the Teen Center.
“We want the San Diego Community to know now and for generations to come that LGBT people are supporters of institutions that serve the best interests of the city,” she said at the time.
While final numbers were still be tallied the week of the opening, Foundation Marketing Director Charlie Goldberg said they were appreciative of Atkins’ involvement in the specialized fundraising campaign, and excited with the LGBT community’s involvement.
Librarian Jennifer Geran, who oversees the History and World Affairs collection, said the LGBT collection is interspersed throughout the entire Central Library, numbering near 9,000 titles in that location alone.
For the Foundation’s campaign, Geran said she and her staff helped summarize some of the branch holdings on LGBT titles to help promote what was available, and what the collection could be with added interest from the community.
“The Central Library has about 8,800 volumes on material that’s LGBT related, and it’s in every section of the library,” Geran said. “The Literature and Language section has LGBT-related novels, over 500 volumes.”
While Geran’s focus during the hectic week was on the Central Library – she said opening day Sept. 30 went “wonderfully” – she was quick to point out the University Branch Library at 4193 Park Blvd. has the “largest distinct collection of LGBT material” in the entire San Diego Public Library system.
“They have more than 1,500 titles, and they do have it shelved separately,” she said. “Most of the branch libraries in the past have had subject specialties, and LGBT material was a subject specialty for that library, so it’s been maintained and added to over the years.”
Geran said staff and administration were all helping side by side in the Central Library opening day, with over 8,000 visitors, several thousand more than they normally had at the previous location.
The new library replaces the former facility 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.
Gloria, who emceed the dedication event, characterized the library as “not only a community unifier but a great equalizer.” He implored citizens to enjoy the new library’s artwork in its galleries, its state-of-the-art theater and the incredible views of the city viewable from the reading room at the top of the building.
“You’re going to love it,” Gloria said.
Current hours for the Central Library located at 330 Park Blvd. are Monday and Wednesday 12 – 8 p.m.; Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.; Saturday 9:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.; and Sunday 1 – 5 p.m.
Complete information for all San Diego Public Libraries, including the new Central Library, can be found at sandiego.gov/public-library/ or by calling the branch directly at 619-236-5800.