Photo by Sam Hodgson
A view of the new San Diego Central Library.
I have lived in San Diego since I was 11, so I’ve seen lots of political battles. I was on Team Library when city leaders were trying to push voters to approve building a baseball stadium. Remember the bumper sticker “Ballpark? Got one, a library I could use”? My sentiments exactly.
I worried when plans moved ahead to build a massive new central library. Yes, it would help revitalize downtown and the old one was decrepit, but neighborhood libraries seemed a more sensible priority. Spend the money where the people are. The funds would go a long way toward improving libraries all across San Diego’s diverse neighborhoods.
We walked inside the dazzling lobby. A huge crowd had come to check out the domed building. Nearly every seat was taken in the reading areas. The place is a massive hit with San Diegans, and for good reason. It’s beautiful, comfortable, free and is accessible from public transportation.
We went on a tour. Our volunteer guide pointed out highlights. My kids loved the glass walkway where they could get down on their hands and knees and see straight down nine stories below. People down there were looking up and waving at them. As we stood taking photos, a couple walked by. The man cracked: “Too bad I forgot my kilt.”
It’s a stark contrast: Right next to the library, which is bursting full of people, sits the empty ballpark.
The library has only been open a few days, but I already see problems, some that need fixing right away, some that probably can’t be fixed.
It’s downtown, so of course, you can’t park easily or cheaply. Yes, there’s a small garage under the library, and it will probably be perpetually full. This means that people like my family and I will not visit often. I’ve got a library down the street. The librarian knows my daughter, an avid reader, by name. I can order any book to be delivered right there. Even with the beautiful views across the bay to Coronado, I’m not going to a library downtown where I’ll have to pay a hefty price to park.
Who will use the library? People who work and live downtown, for one. They already have a place to park, so they can walk over
But here’s my biggest concern: I am worried the new library will become a homeless encampment. It’s been open a week, and there appear to be certain “neighborhoods” inside the library already, where the homeless congregate.
As my 10-year-old son and I sat down to admire the gorgeous view from a comfy chair and look through the books we’d picked up off the shelves, a woman nearby let out a long, loud screech. Other nearby patrons looked alarmed and headed out of the area. My son got scared and didn’t want to be by the screamer, who had one leg splayed out over the arm of a chair. The chair next to her was loaded up with what appeared to be four or five bags full of her possessions. We left, too.
I do not begrudge anyone the right to be in the library, and I know that they might not have better options. Nonetheless, all citizens need to feel safe and comfortable using their public libraries.
Are there rules for what is acceptable behavior in the library? How are they enforced?
It’s a dicey issue, and I don’t know what the rules are. I assume people can be kicked out for disruptive behavior, but it’s a fine line to walk. Librarians were much too busy on Sunday helping people find and check out books. I’m not sure they heard the person screaming, and it’s probably not even their job to do anything about it. I did see several security guards roaming around, but did not see them addressing the problem.
Now that we have this beautiful new library, someone needs to figure out how to manage the place.
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