Due to recent UC-wide budget cuts and the trend toward digital access to university materials, the UCSD Libraries, as all the libraries on campus are currently collectively called, are consolidating their collections under the subtly different moniker, “UC San Diego Library.” In other words, the Mother Ship, aka the Geisel Library, is slowly but surely assimilating the smaller satellites. As many in the UC community have learned during the process, resistance is futile.
Over the past year and a half, the university has closed four physical library locations: the Medical Center Library (April 2011); the Center for Library & Instructional Computing Services (June 2011); the International Relations & Pacific Studies Library (July 2011); and the Scripps Library (June 2012). Much of the material has been incorporated into what Trekkies might call “the Borg,” the futuristic octahedral Geisel building on UC San Diego’s campus that now houses five libraries within one spaceship-like structure. Meanwhile, other parts of the collections from the closed libraries have been digitized or shipped off to the university’s Miramar Road storage annex.
One prominent (and ironic) aspect of this consolidation is the closure of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography Library, housed since 1975 in the Eckart Building, just a few steps up from the beach on the Scripps campus — after all, it was the existence of Scripps, since 1903, that led to the founding of UC San Diego in the 1960s. The Scripps Library’s archives will still be available by appointment, and, as librarian Amy Butros describes, materials can be requested and delivered to designated pick-up spots on campus. But the 9:00–5:00, Monday–Friday open-door dependability is gone. And though, as Butros says, “very few faculty” visited the library or “maintained the practice of browsing the shelves over the past few years,” that option doesn’t exist anymore. Now patrons of Cups, the long-established outdoor coffee stand next to the library, will have nowhere to go on a rainy day. For years, a sign posted by the library on the wall shared by Eckart and Cups has been inviting customers to bring their drinks and snacks inside, “rain or shine.”
For those lucky enough to stumble upon it, the Scripps Library offered one of the most unique study spots in San Diego. Terraced construction gives the building a trapezoidal shape that echoes the coastal wave-cut platform topography of La Jolla. Thick concrete walls provide insulation from the salty air, while floor-to-ceiling glass windows let in abundant light and afford those inside a view of the Pacific. Nestled into the hillside along Biological Grade, a road that plunges almost to the edge of the last cliff before the sea, it’s a fitting home for the oceanographic charts, seismic maps, scholarly journals, and other scientific materials that Scripps has collected in 109 years of existence. Biological Grade also runs past the oldest known continuously inhabited site in California (marked by a placard posted by the Kumeyaay), which people have frequented for at least 7530 years. It’s not hard to see why that spot has been popular — the panoramic vista, the cool sea breeze, the pelicans flying by. It also has a sandy hollow, where it would be warm from the day’s sun and where one (or two, or a family) could sleep. Over the past 100 years, Scripps has surrounded the site with structures ranging from small office cottages to world-class laboratories and a parking lot. Presently, the site is just north of the Walter and Judith Munk Laboratory, where they have at least one seismometer, possibly more. My husband once pointed one out to me through the window of the locked hallway, but the next time we visited, the device had been moved. Its recordings probably reside somewhere in the library by the sea.
While it was in full operation, I had reason to visit the library on only one occasion, but I walk by it on my lunch break, and it was comforting knowing that it was there. Before my husband and I began dating, he took me to look at a map. He had spent many long hours there when he was an earth-sciences student and assistant to interim director Wolf Berger. In the hush of the spacious first-floor room, with its double-paned windows and its view of the ocean and the Scripps pier, he had pored over maps kept in rows of huge, flat drawers, looking for data requested by his boss. I was delighted by the fact that one could look out the window over the surface of the Pacific while studying bathymetric maps of its depths.
When we visited on its last day open, we found the Scripps Library a bit rearranged. The front room was empty, save for a few tables and chairs and a sculpture by Georg Schmerholz called Breaching Whale. The research desk was also empty, but the portrait of William Emerson Ritter, founder and first director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography (1903–1928) still presided over the front hall. The maps had been moved to the second floor, and though we weren’t sure if it was true, there seemed to be fewer than we remembered. A lot of the shelves were empty, and the place was even quieter than, well, a library. As if to signify the finality of the day, a sonic boom from nearby the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station penetrated the silence, vibrating the huge panes of glass in the windows. At first I thought it was an earthquake, but my husband set me straight, pointing out that it was not the ground that was shaking, only windows rattling.
A few other people were milling about the doomed library, taking pictures, while the librarian sat at the circulation desk a little too cheerfully. I overheard her say that construction would begin the week after the place closed. Lo and behold, when I walked by a few days after closing, plastic sheeting hung in the front windows. The sign on the wall at Cups was still up, beckoning to a pair of locked wooden doors, and another sign that read “Closed Permanently.”