330 Park Boulevard, San Diego
The new San Diego Central Library officially opened its doors to the public on September 28, 2013, capping 3 years of construction, 17 years of planning, and 36 years of talking about it. The 500,000-square-foot structure boasts nine floors topped by a signature half dome, housing 1.25 million books and more than 1200 places to sit and read them.
So, four months later, has it made an impact to more than our skyline? Well, like the skyline, it depends on which angle you look at it.
According to the official door count, the new Central Library has seen attendance more than double that of the old building over the same period last year; of course, this takes into account the excitement of a shiny new building to visit, with over 100,000 people checking it out within its first month. As the giddiness has subsided, those numbers have settled to under 80,000 — or roughly 2600 visitors per day — still an 80 percent increase over attendance at the library's old E Street location.
But to put it another way, the library is still on pace to attract only half as many people than attend a season of Padres home games; this, despite being free to the public and fairly engaging.
With high ceilings and loads of natural light, the new building manages to shake any of the stuffy characterizations that usually follow libraries around. Though long, orderly rows of books fill the center of the main floors, they rarely feel like the central focus of any room. Instead, the impression is more like that of an airport lounge that presents billions of hours' worth of reading material for its guests' enjoyment. Reading tables, desks, and chairs are spread throughout, often within glassed-in nooks overlooking the city.
The best views are reserved for the eighth-floor reading room and the ninth-floor rooftop, looking upon the Coronado Bridge and across the South Bay. Though, for baseball fans, the best views may be literally reserved for the special-events room, which looks out over the Petco Park field.
A trio of elevators moves between floors pretty easily, though it seems to be a crapshoot where the center, glass elevator stops. It may be more fun to navigate the stairs and escalators, which almost emulate MC Escher drawings.
Aside from views and books, the library features a wealth of technological amenities. This holds especially true in the I CAN center, where those with disabilities or special needs may use adaptive computer devices, including visual communications systems and braille printers.
There are also interactive stations dedicated to children, and others for teens. And if you want to get technical about it, the entire place offers interactivity to anyone looking for it, including video-production equipment and 3D printing.
Throughout the library, desks and study rooms offer electrical outlets to keep your laptop running while you research, type, or take advantage of the free Wi-Fi. Wireless printing is offered, at 20 cents a page, with an active library card.
Library cards may seem anachronistic, but here you get them by sitting at one of hundreds of computing devices provided for library guests. Find one labeled "Catalog Computer" and select "online user registration" (this may also be done from home). You still need to pick it up from the front desk with proof of address, but once you do you may never need to visit that desk again, unless you need to pay overdue fees. Electronic self-checkout kiosks equipped with bar-code scanners enable you to scan the books you want and walk out, if for no other reason than to remind you this is the library of the future.
As for the Padres being more popular than literacy, Petco Park cost $450 million to build vs. $185 million for the Central Library, so at least it's more cost effective per person to bring a center of learning to downtown. Also, library guests pay less for parking.
The first two hours of parking are free with validation, available by request at any of the library's information counters. Beyond the two-hour mark, the cost begins to accrue in 20-minute increments running at $1.25 per — cash only.
It's a fair alternative to metered street parking, which maxes out at two hours anyway; and the cost plays significantly cheaper than the 15-dollar lots surrounding the ballpark just a couple blocks over.
A library spokesperson suggested they may be implementing a new protocol for game days to ensure baseball fans don't try to game the system. It may be interesting to see how many library visitors are willing to brave the Petco Park traffic for the sake of cultural enrichment.