Tuesday, June 16, 2009 | I have followed the debate and discussion for years on the proposed downtown library. I wonder if anyone has thought about creating the library of the future, not one based on libraries of the past?

My first thought is that only 10,000 to 20,000 people live downtown currently, and I think the peak build out is proposed to be 100k. So that pencils out to $1.85 million per downtown resident. Maybe more San Diegans will use the downtown library, especially if current SD branches are closed or access is restricted based on current budget proposals. Regardless, that is a lot of money for any library.

My real point is that the library of the future is digital, not paper. Imagine if the city built a digital library, and spent just the annual operating costs of the library on access to digital rights for books, periodicals and other materials. Imagine what a collection the library could have! We would be the envy and model of the rest of the country, if not the world.

And imagine the lowered environmental impact: No driving cars to the library, no circling the blocks to find parking (no parking tickets). Instead, every person in SD could access the library, easily, efficiently and in an environmentally sound manner: over the internet.

So I propose we stop the discussion about building a landmark that no one has ever said we can afford, and shift the discussion to what kind of content can we get for the money we are spending. After all, isn’t the library collection the real value proposition for a library, and not the building? The cart is before the horse and the discussion about creating real, sustainable value for the investment needs to be the true discussion.

Oh, and the $17 million already spent? That is just a sunk cost, and it certainly shouldn’t be used to justify the expenditure of another $185 million dollars. That is not a sound financial approach to any project, public or private.

Let’s go digital and create the library of the future, not a legacy to the era of bricks and mortar.

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