Let’s look at the second reason to build a grand new library:

  • II. It is needed to provide a public meeting space and internet access to residents.

How about we break this down into two parts and cover the public-meeting space issue first? And I’ll put my cards on the table too: I’m a big fan of public meeting spaces. Europe infected me early on with a love of plazas, theaters, sidewalk cafes and public transit.

On that note, I got an e-mail from a friend taking issue with my tone in the discussion about the proposed new main library (with a school on top):

I think you’re discounting the value of a grand public meeting space. Right now there’s a guy, Ralph DeLauro, who does film programming for the library. He picks some fantastic films. But the current library’s theater is uncomfortable and small. It’s a labor of love to sit through a film in those seats. But … a comfy, larger theater + top-notch film programming = San Diego’s cultural IQ goes up a few points.

Wait a second. If the goal is to create an awesome public meeting space, let’s do that!

If we want a public meeting space, why would we build a huge building filled with places where you actually can’t talk? There are technologies that allow us to browse stacks of books, read the first few pages, see the table of contents, all from our handhelds. Why would we create a building now where so much of it is dominated by endless stacks of books — especially if we’re supposedly trying to create the best public meeting space possible?

And finally, what does it mean for the public meeting space when you have to put a high school on top if it?

I work very near High Tech High in Liberty Station and it’s a cool place. The kids sprawl across the plaza. They make out with each other on the grass and make you step over them as you walk by when they’re sitting on the sidewalk. They also leave trash all over the place in the public space during lunchtime. They’re fine, and I love them, but we have a massive area for them to intermingle with the rest of the neighborhood.

This high school downtown will be located several floors above the library. Can you imagine what the elevators and stairwells will be like?

If you want to get together with someone to talk or have a meeting with your activist group in the middle of the day, there’s a reason you don’t go to a high school to do it.

And there’s one other major point: To get the building constructed library boosters have decided to delay putting in the auditorium. Creating quality public spaces with this project is not a high priority.

My point is this: If what you want is a grand public meeting space, you should focus your attention on getting the city to build it — not cram it into some hybrid schoobrary where most of the space is teeming with teenagers or surrendered to row after row of books. It is my contention that we could better deal with the stacks of books through a warehousing and technology system and then create a wonderful plaza or performing arts center surrounded by cafes and linked to a promenade that leads all the way to the bay.

The fact is, to shove our dreams for public meeting spaces through the prism of this project is to insult everyone who thinks San Diego deserves them.


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