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Helping Minds Grow through Reuse in Action

December 11, 2013

The three most important documents a free society gives are a birth certificate, a passport, and a library card.

- E.L. Doctorow

In November I posted an article entitled “The Public Library – Reuse in Action.” Today’s piece presents a follow-up on the topic of libraries. I traveled to San Diego on vacation a couple of weeks ago and had the privilege of touring their new library. Think that libraries are becoming an anachronism? Take a look at what San Diego has done to keep their library as a focal point for community involvement, learning, and technological advancement.

Located in downtown San Diego, the city’s new Central Library opened in late September. The building has nine stories including a charter school, two levels of parking, an auditorium and a café for a total building size of 497,652 square feet. The price tag—$184.9 million, funded through a grant from the California State Library fund, private donations, and the City of San Diego. The San Diego Public Library receives 5.6 million visitors annually.

According to the Library’s website, the Library is San Diego’s “new civic icon that embodies the city’s commitment to the future. It is the heart of San Diego’s 35-branch library system and serves as a new regional center for learning and literacy. It is already a major destination and gathering place for the community with its small and large meeting spaces, innovative technology, public art throughout the facility, and integration of an onsite charter high school. There are so many areas of the new Central Library that will leave you wanting to come back again and again to explore.”

Book Basics

The Library collections total 1,250,598 volumes, including 71,965 children’s books and 400 computing devices (along with wireless Internet throughout the Library). A Library Shop is a gift store jointly operated by the Friends of the Library and Library Foundation. The shop sells unique literary-related and library-branded items, with proceeds going to the Library to benefit programs and services.

An Outdoor Garden Courtyard and Café greet you on the ground level entrance of the Library, offering an open air gathering place (with free WIFI). As you enter the Library there is a “video wall” designed as a multi-sensory experience to “grab visitor attention and let them know they are entering a technological library of the future.” The impressive three-story lobby features a beautiful gravity arch, customer service area, and automated self-checkout machines. There is a Friends of the Library used book store as well.

The Library offers a range of learning resources and expertise for adults with accessibility needs, including, 14 specialized work stations, Braille books, audio books, large print books, closed circuit video magnifiers and a telephone device for hearing impaired. There are two-person dedicated study rooms, mobile computing devices, and specially trained staff onsite.

The 9,100 square foot Children’s Library features a Dr. Seuss-theme and contains a 56,200 volume print collection, including special areas for picture books, audiovisual media, primary grade and intermediate grade collections. There are twenty-seven child-sized computer work stations, including Early Literacy Stations with 60 educational software titles spanning seven curricular areas for children ages 2-8 and a story time and play area.

The Teen Center, a beach-themed safe learning environment for teens only, designed from a concept developed by local high school students, is a 3,797 square foot area providing teens with 14 computers and two study rooms, fun and engaging furniture and a relaxed environment; iPads, mini iPads, Chromebooks, and eReaders are available for use in the Library. A media gaming room and onsite snack area are also included.

A Homework Center offers after-school tutoring with a volunteer program to help students with homework and project needs. The homework material tailored to local curricula, and provides computer workstations, test preparation books, reference materials, and access to librarian-vetted online databases.

The Library’s Career Center is operated in collaboration with San Diego Workforce Partnership, to provide a one-stop career center offering comprehensive employment and job skill development services.

The Library’s impressive Reading Room--“The People’s Penthouse”—is a three-story (204 feet high) glass room with panoramic views for relaxed, quiet reading and study. It includes large reading tables and chairs and artistic repurposed furniture (made from discarded furniture found in alleys and on curbs of San Diego’s neighborhoods). The Room’s 16-foot diameter chandelier is a reflector and is made with recycled materials.

Technology to Help Build the Future

The Library’s Computer Lab is a technology center with 42 state-of-the-art computers that allows library users to access the Internet and computer programs they may not otherwise have at home or through other sources. The Technology Learning Center Computer is a classroom with 24 state-of-the-art computers, which features a TV and Smart Board for group technology training sessions. A Multi-Media TV Studio & YES! Learning Lab provides facilities to teach television production, stop-motion animation, music recording, webcasting, web publishing and game creation with an in-library television studio for CityTV Multi-Media Services with editing capabilities.

IDEA (Innovation & Digital Expression Activity) Lab offers a place for “creating, collaborating, and promoting 21st century career readiness” by exposing students to the latest tools and technologies. Profiled as a “fusion between a maker station and a design lab,” it features 10 high-end computers that offer software for graphic design, photo editing, architectural design, music production, video editing and technology such as multi-touch collaboration platforms and design tablets, along with Makerbot 3-D printers to create professional quality prototypes and models. Partnerships are being developed to offer targeted workshops, mentoring, internships and other educational opportunities.

There are more than 20 private study rooms throughout the building that accommodate groups from two to six people who want to gather for discussions or collaborative projects. All of the rooms are WIFI enabled and some of them have 42” monitors and laptop ports.

Onsite High School

Unique to the library is an onsite high school. The e3 Civic High School has an initial enrollment of 260 9th and 10th graders and is designed to ultimately serve up to 500 students. This one-of-a-kind national model for college and career readiness focuses on team and project-based learning with the unique resources of the San Diego Central Library. The school features cooperative programs with San Diego Community College, Thomas Jefferson School of Law and other nearby higher education centers, as well as links to the downtown business community with hands-on learning experiences and internships.

Other Resources

The Government Documents Center is a repository for government documents for the entire region includes 1.6 million items; a Patent and Trademark Resource Center also offers a regional resource center that is part of a nationwide library network maintained by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The Rare Book Room is contained in a 19th century private library setting with a modern flair and traces the history of the book with documents that sample the history of book making and printing spanning 4,000 years.

There’s even a Baseball Research Center--the largest and most comprehensive baseball research center in the U.S. outside the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, featuring rotating displays of baseball photos and memorabilia.

Public Access Art

Besides the beautifully designed Library itself, art is prominently featured throughout the structure. The Library includes an open-air ivy garden that showcases sculptures. The Library Art Gallery offers free public access to museum-quality art from the Library’s curated Visual Arts Program highlighting local artists. Throughout the Library one encounters wall art, art installations, engraved literary quotes on walls, and even a rock garden.

A Place for the Public to Meet and Learn

There are three furnished public terraces with sweeping views of the city and San Diego Bay. As noted above public study rooms are located throughout the library. Additionally, the Library affords a wide range of meeting places for rent and use, including a flexible rental space with stunning views, which accommodates 500 people standing, 333 in lecture seating, and more than 200 for dining. The 350-seat auditorium is available for lectures and other events.

Equal Opportunity Reuse

Giving everyone equal opportunities to use educational resources, technology and inspiration is at the heart of every library. From literacy and technology, to arts and culture, libraries, embody reuse and the sharing of resources.

San Diego’s new Central Library is inspirational in a time when so many towns and cities are reducing funding for libraries. With a creative mix of public and private funding and support, San Diego has indeed built a library for the future, offering something for everyone in their city.

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By Athena Lee Bradley

Note: “Help Minds Grow” is the slogan of the San Diego Public Library Foundation, a nonprofit organization which seeks private-sector support to supplement government funding for the city’s libraries.


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