According to UC San Diego Library’s website, by late 2013, the Scripps Library materials will be relocated to the third floor of Eckart or beamed up to the Mother Ship, and the newly named “Scripps Archives and Library Annex” will operate by appointment in a much smaller portion of the building. The first two floors will be renovated and/or repurposed. As director of communications for UC San Diego Library Dolores Davies reports: “Approximately 200,000 volumes and other materials are being moved to Geisel,” and “about 130,000 items, mostly archive materials and a few specialty collections — including ocean maps and charts — will remain on the third floor of Eckart.” I was happy to learn that the maps would remain in the repository by the sea.
As my husband and I discovered when we visited the site in mid-November, the expansive first-floor room of the Eckart building — where the sculpture of the humpback whale once stood and where the maps had been before that — has been transformed into a bank of cubelike, windowless offices. A long, low wall parallel to the front window now prevents the scientists who will soon be working there from looking out over the ocean they might be studying. The whale statue has been pushed under the stairwell during construction, and the library’s life-size diorama of the Little Green Lab of La Jolla, complete with scientist mannequin, has been covered in white plastic sheeting to keep off the dust. The Little Green Lab, constructed at La Jolla Cove in 1905, was one of the institution’s first facilities and is still used by Scripps as a graduate-education office. During its use as a lab, it also housed the institution’s first aquarium. Scripps has continuously kept a public aquarium ever since. The diorama at the library depicts the now-antique glass jars and vials where scientists kept their specimens. The molted exoskeleton of a spiny lobster sits in a tray, ready for examination.
According to the project superintendent, the new design for the offices on the first floor of Eckart originally included remodeled lighting, and the new walls were supposed to go all the way to the ceiling. But in order to stick to budget, the university decided to keep the existing fluorescent lights and build the walls just shy of the ceiling. These changes, “value-engineered” after the design was presented to the university, saved $100,000 from the original estimate. But it looks as if they didn’t skimp on lumber — the new walls are finished in beautiful incense cedar shipped from Northern California. As my husband and I walked around, we inhaled the fresh scent.
In contrast to the Scripps Library, the ongoing construction of the new San Diego City Central Library at 11th and J downtown brings expansion, not consolidation. The new nine-story domed structure, scheduled to open in July 2013, will allow more of the city’s library materials to see the light of day: at its current location, more than 60 percent of the collection is in basement storage, off limits to the public. The E Street branch, built in 1954 on the site of the demolished 1902 Carnegie Library, houses somewhere in the vicinity of 780,000 volumes. The new branch will accommodate over 1.25 million.
From our back porch, we’ve been watching the new library dome take shape in the downtown San Diego skyline, an unlikely curve among so many right angles. We first noticed it around the first of April, when we were driving north on the E Street entrance to I-5. I was so surprised by its presence in the skyline, all I could muster was, “Doooome!” (à la Homer Simpson in the Simpsons Movie, when his actions cause the EPA to cover Springfield with a giant Plexiglas dome). My husband surmised that it was the new downtown library, a sketch of which we both recalled having seen. From the drawing, I didn’t really understand how tall it would be — I had no inkling that we would be able to see it from our house.
As it turns out, it’s southwest of us, and we have a pretty clear view. It sticks up past other buildings in the vicinity, but we can really only see the dome itself, not the rest of the structure. Its roundness, and the fact that it looks like it’s about to blast off, caused my husband to nickname it the “San Diego Space Tit.”
Just before the first of September, on the night of a blue moon, we noticed that the Space Tit had a red signal at its apex. Now what we deemed “the nipple” glows like a beacon every night. Patrons lured by the glowing nipple must be patient — the E Street branch will close in March, and the new library doesn’t open until July. That means a few months of managed chaos for the Central Library. During this time, the collections, according to public information officer Marion Hubbard, will be “weeded out a little more than usual.” Items will be sorted, packed, and hauled by a moving company to the new digs.
At the time of our interview, the city was still in the process of hiring movers for the job, but Hubbard did confirm the implementation of a radio-frequency identification system for the relocation process. All materials will be outfitted with an identification tag and fed into a tube system (yet to be constructed). This will start near the circulation desk, go outside the building, then through what is now the children’s section on the second floor (where visitors can watch as books and other media move along a conveyor belt), ending in the material sorting room. So, before books travel across town to take their places on the new shelves, they will undergo a technology upgrade and take a fantastic journey through tubular space — a fitting preparation for their assimilation into the San Diego Space Dome.
As for the materials from Scripps Library, they will, as Dolores Davies describes, “be placed on plywood library moving carts, loaded onto trucks, and driven up to Geisel Library. The materials will then be unloaded on to compact shelving on the first floor of the east wing of Geisel Library.” Students and library employees will eventually shelve them somewhere in the bowels of the Mother Ship, way up on dry land, out of view of the ocean, where the salty sea air is all that will remind them of their origins. As of now, they are preparing to be assimilated.