Nice, I got a response I anticipated in my first post.

Reader Booster goes after me:

I hate to get personal, but most of the people who have pledged money and are really interested in seeing this built are people with a lot of money who got it through exactly the kind of never-say-die, wheel-and-deal attitude that makes stuff happen and builds fortunes. It is a style very much in conflict with the mentality and tendency of journalists, which is to pick and pick and pick until you kill something through the sheer force of doubt. The projects in San Diego that by the sheer force of refusing to back down amid negativity (and, quite honestly, considerable backroom dealing) have been great for this city.

OK, there it is, laid bare the killer argument to which you simply can’t respond: If you criticize this project, it means you’re shortsighted, which means your arguments are just inherently wrong. The people with the correct arguments will be proven correct decades from now. So there’s no reason to argue against them, because we won’t know if they’re wrong for decades.

Score one for Booster. I can’t really argue against that.

Calling me a short sighted journalist unwilling to do something big and beautiful may or may not be true. I’m trying to think of a few cool things around here. But it doesn’t matter. Let’s get back to the basics and discuss the fundamental reasons why we are building a new downtown library.

The first grand reason I listed for why boosters want a new main library:

  • I. To warehouse and showcase books and important archives

In a piece posted on SDNN, former City Council President Scott Peters, now a port commissioner, argued that the Central Library is the beating heart of the library system.

Like a heart, it is supposed to pump vital resources through the city.

A video produced by the library boosters years ago showed the crowded stacks of the central library. The place doesn’t only serve the traditional role of a library, it’s actually the main warehouse and distribution center. Someone requests something in Rancho Bernardo or San Ysidro, it very possibly needs to be shipped from the Central Library.

So, the contention is (from the Library Foundation’s FAQ), we need a new one.

We have a decaying building, outdated plumbing, inefficient electrical, as well as heating and air systems that are costly to maintain.

OK, so let’s think about this for a second. Our commenter Booster said we need to think like the great tycoons of business who made fortunes making all those backroom deals and cutthroat decisions.

If you were a great business person, and you were trying to decide where, in San Diego, you wanted to build a premier distribution center (a beating heart) for the library system, would you put it in the middle of the East Village downtown? If you wanted to warehouse items for quick access to the rest of the city, you would put it downtown? If you wanted to maximize efficiency and make it so materials could get to people better and faster, would you put a facility in East Village and then you would put a school on top of it?

No, I don’t think you would. Forget the childhood drawings of a heart — a heart, the organ, is actually quite ugly and weird looking. And it’s brutally efficient.

If the goal really is to warehouse and distribute materials to the rest of the system, a logical community (and a business) would think of much more efficient ways to do this. A warehousing system based out of Kearny Mesa or Southeast San Diego makes more sense than one based out of the East Village. Again, if you want to make materials as available as possible to the rest of the system and the city’s residents, the heart shouldn’t be downtown in a cramped urban neighborhood.

A reader, who is a city librarian, e-mailed me his own two cents on a related point:

we need a Central Library to provide a depth of resources that branches can’t.

I like this librarian a lot and I think his comments on the site are usually right on. But local branch libraries, right now, with the power of the Internet, have a tremendous amount of resources handy. In fact, skilled librarians savvy in archiving and information systems have actually infinitely more resources available at their fingertips than any building could ever hold.

The city could employ them to efficiently help visitors to branch libraries navigate the internet’s vast resources, while ordering hard-copy materials from a much more efficient system.

The city could do this if its branch libraries were ever actually open. Have you looked at library hours lately? Forget ever wandering by the library and assuming it’s open. Chances are, it won’t be.

You can take this opposition to the main library as simple curmudgeonly fiscal conservatism espoused by a nitpicky writer who just wants big dreams to fail so he can bathe in the schadenfreude. Or you can think: If we have a problem we want to solve as a community is this really the way we want to solve it?

Ill-advised investments can cripple a community’s progress. If what we want is to warehouse and distribute materials effectively and if we want to act like adroit business people, then maybe we should consider doing what a business person would do.

Update: I improved the prose in the first line of this post after it was initially published.

SCOTT LEWIS

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