It’s been far too long since I’ve gone to the public library and just perused the shelves, taking in the aura of rows upon rows of one of our most valuable treasures: books. On Sept. 25, I got a media sneak peek at the San Diego Central Library, opening on Sept. 30 and offering the public a sneak peek with a celebration that includes a street festival on Sept. 28 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
I recall with great fondness my childhood visits to the library and spending afternoons reading. Seeing the downtown building designed by Rob Wellington Quigley reinvigorated my passion for libraries. I foresee many weekend trips on the trolley (two stations are near the library) and hours spent not only browsing the collections, but also looking out the windows and sitting in one of several reading areas.
I could go on about the arresting architecture of the building (including the concrete arch in the main lobby), and I expect to take visitors from out-of-town to see it. [I can hear it now: “You’re taking us where? To the public library?”]
But much will be written about the architecture by others and my doing so in this blog would pay short shrift to the entirety of a community building that should make every San Diegan proud. However, I will make this declaration regarding the dome of intertwined “sails” that “sing” when the wind passes through the steel. The best place to listen (as well as to get a close look at the structural frame) is the ninth-floor terrace. But on a day with a good wind (such as the day I was there), you can hear a sort of whine inside on all the floors. It reminded me of a soundtrack for a movie about paranormal activities: compellingly eerie. When looking at the dome, consider the fact that it is 8 feet larger in diameter than the U.S. Capitol dome and you’ll be even more impressed.
Just across from the front entrance is a 350-seat auditorium, which was smartly designed to have one end open to the outside and which has stunning design elements. I really like the wall where overlapping, open books have been screwed onto the vertical surface. Robert Lipski’s Hiding My Candy is but one of the library’s art installations. Throughout the library are paintings, drawings, photographs, prints and video installations. Kids will particularly enjoy the “elevator art” installation by Einar and Jamex de la Torre — a series of vivid dioramas filled with fun art glass and found objects. A very unusual installation is in the eighth floor reading room, where local artist Roy McMakin (see a Dialogue Q&A with him in our November issue) has collected 25 pieces of furniture that he found “discarded in alleys and on curbs” and painted/upholstered in the same bright blue. And it’s OK if you sit on the chairs and sofas!
There’s a separate art gallery and sculpture garden on the ninth floor. That’s also where you’ll find the rare books room. It was still being finished as I toured, but I could tell it would be a fitting environment for its soon-to-be occupants and a documentation of the history of printing/bookmaking. Just across from the intimate rare books room and a larger room that houses a collection about the city and state and where people can research their genealogy) is a 3,500-square-foot event space that can be rented. One wall is floor-to-ceiling glass for viewing the cityscape, and there’s access to two terraces and a catering kitchen.
The library has more rooms than most libraries have dedicated to study, training and services (i.e., a career center and a room specifically for people with impaired vision and hearing).
Among features you won’t find in most, if any, libraries are a baseball research center (the largest outside the Baseball Hall of Fame), a high school (on floors 6 and 7) and a teen area where no adults are allowed. The latter is a 3,800-square-foot corner of the second floor designed from a concept developed by students at Kearny High School Construction Tech Academy.
Elements I particularly like include reading nooks where windows resemble open books, the underground parking garage (accessible parking always makes my list of qualities that make places great) and old card-catalog cabinets that prove there was life before computers.
Of course, technology abounds in computers throughout the library, self-checkout kiosks, a multimedia TV studio and learning lab, and computer training center and lab. The library even has 3-D printers.
Additionally, you can check out preloaded Kindles. But look for me with an old-fashioned page-turner in my hands.
The above photo is courtesy San Diego Public Library. I shot the photos below: