A ‘new library for a new age’

Posted: February 2nd, 2013 | News, Top Story | 2 Comments

Downtown Central Library to house 1.2 million volumes, charter high school

Dave Schwab | Downtown News

Downtown San Diego’s new $184.9 million Central Library debuts this summer and this all ages facility will definitely be one for the times and the masses.

The Downtown Central Library will be “an architectural spectacle that brightens the San Diego skyline,” said Council President Todd Gloria. (Courtesy San Diego Public Library)

“We are going to have state-of-the-art computer labs, more than 400 computers and a lot more places for people to plug in their own, as well as a lot of new app-related technology,” said Marion Moss Hubbard, senior public information officer for the San Diego Library.

Moss Hubbard said there will also be an new “automated material handling system” that will move items from book drops, sort materials and automatically check books and other materials out, all while operating with the same number of staff we have now.

“A charter high school on the sixth and seventh floors will eventually have 500 students,” said Charlie Goldberg, San Diego Public Library Foundation’s marketing director, about one innovation of the new library still under construction.

Goldberg added the new library’s Union Bank homework center will have 24 workstations for tutors and students. “Our teens-only space, with a gaming area and a juice bar with a beach theme, has also tripled in size, as has the children’s area,” he said.

“We don’t have a concrete date for the opening but we are still planning sometime in July,” said Moss Hubbard of the new library site, which has been under construction since summer 2010 near Petco Park.

Goldberg said it’s a new library for a new age. He added that libraries, as they change with the times, are finding they’re being changed by the times, having their roles expanded and redefined.

“The library has become more than just a place to find that latest book,” he said. “It’s now a community center, a meeting space, an affordable place people can go to get ideas. It’s basically become a new home for a large number of people, a safe place for young people to go after school as a learning environment.

“That’s what you’ll see in this new facility: a vast number of new meeting spaces, an auditorium for presentation of events, performances and movies and an expanded teen center including gaming opportunities,” Goldberg said.

The new Downtown library replaces the current 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 facility alone, which now also supports 35 branch libraries – three times more than when it opened.

A view of San Diego Bay and the Coronado Bridge from one of the upper floors of the new library (Courtesy San Diego Public Library)

The aged E Street facility is also beyond its capacity with 60 percent of its collections in basement storage and off limits to the public. The old building suffers from decaying and outdated infrastructure that is inefficient and costly to maintain.

The Central Library, noted Moss Hubbard, is considered “the heart of the library system” in that it “processes all the books, does book ordering and sends them out to the branches.”

Having all these functions handled by the central library, Moss Hubbard said, allows the branches to do what they do best. “[Being] the pulse of the communities, dealing with them directly, [and] providing the services they need without having to divert their attention away.”

After materials have been transferred to the new library, the old E Street facility will remain a city real estate asset and be converted for reuse by another city department yet to be determined, Moss Hubbard said.

Among other things, the new 21stcentury downtown San Diego Central Library will:

• Feature a collection of more than 1.2 million volumes, 60 percent more than the current facility;

• Support region-wide student achievement with children and teen areas, a homework center, and a new charter high school;

• Provide a venue for community meetings and gatherings;

• Provide top-quality cultural and educational programming;

• Allow equal access to key technologies; and,

• Support people with special needs.

The design of the new, nine-story Central Library building reflects the input of hundreds of people who participated in a yearlong series of public workshops. Based on this input, the joint-venture team of Rob Wellington Quigley FAIA and Tucker Sadler Architects collaborated on the final design.

The library building offers flexible spaces with diverse and accessible public amenities, including bay-view terraces, roof gardens and a public reading room. Special features include a flexible special events room on the ninth floor, a state-of-the-art auditorium, and a beautiful reading room under the landmark lattice dome.

An artist’s rendering of the new multi-media auditorium (Courtesy San Diego Public Library)

San Diego’s new Downtown Central Library will not only be more modern and more technological, but more accessible, as well.

“Two-thirds of our collection now is in the basement that a lot of people don’t even know about,” Moss Hubbard said. “The majority of those resources are going to be out and available for the public to be able to browse, to find information they didn’t even know they were looking for.”

Council President Todd Gloria’s District Three includes Downtown, and the councilmember noted that the new Central Library is more than just a structure, it will be a cultural mecca as well as an informational hub.

“The new Central Library will be a significant addition to our city as a place where literacy and culture are encouraged, as a civic project built through collaborative efforts, and as an architectural spectacle that brightens San Diego’s skyline,” Gloria said.

The new library is going to have another unique feature the E Street location didn’t have.

“This facility will have city TV station 24, which will be teaching staff and also students at the school how to do video editing and video production, providing the public with additional video resources we don’t currently have,” Moss Hubbard said.

Regarding the new Downtown library’s $184.9 million price tag, the Library Foundation’s Goldberg said $80 million of that figure came from developer fees intended for redevelopment of the Downtown San Diego area.

“Twenty million comes from city schools for development of the charter high school, $20 million was from a competitive state grant for construction of libraries, and the remaining $64.9 million is from private sources,” Goldberg said adding, “The funds were all guaranteed to ensure construction. The city is not on the hook for any of those remaining funds.”

Looking ahead, Council President Todd Gloria addressed the next project on the library landscape once the Central Library is completed this summer.

“Focus will shift to finalizing plans and funding for the much-needed and long-awaited Mission Hills-Hillcrest Branch Library, which will be centrally located between the two communities and have far more space, materials, and resources for my neighbors,” Gloria said. “I am glad that it has the rightful place as the city’s next priority library.”

Dave Schwab came to San Diego 30 years ago with a journalism degree from Michigan State University. He has worked for numerous dailies and weeklies and now freelances for a variety of regional publications. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, hiking, sports and spending time with friends. He can be reached at



  1. Alina Bailey says:

    It’s one of the most exciting projects that San Diego has completed and it is for the benefit and enjoyment of everyone!

  2. […] San Diego Downtown News, “A New Library For a New Age” […]

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