Thursday, November 21, 2013

Visiting the New San Diego Central Library, by CVGS Member Karen Yarger

Adventure awaits!  You’ve seen it, you’ve heard about it. You know you want to see it for yourself. 

Our new downtown library is truly a wonder, from its stunning three story lobby to its iconic dome. Taking a full city block, it is an architectural marvel that contains over 1,250,500 volumes, 400 computing devices, a 350 seat auditorium and a two-story charter school. All the latest green and energy saving technologies have been employed.  About one third of its $196.7 million budget came from private donations, the rest from government funds, grants and leases. It is one of 36 branches in the San Diego Public Library system.   But most of all, it’s beautiful.   If you haven’t already visited the spectacular new downtown library (at 330 Park Blvd, between  J and K Streets), here are some things to assist you on your first visit. Be sure to pick up a library map as you enter.   
First, The basics:

You’ll notice the Garden Courtyard, with one of the library’s two entrances. By the end of the year, a café will open there. The eye-popping lobby has a used book store (closed on Wednesdays and second Tuesdays) and a great gift shop with an array of library-themed goodies. Walk through the first floor area  to the best sellers  -  and be sure to see the unintentionally humorous  “Suffragist” display in the CD/DVD area.  The 9,000 square foot  Childrens’ Library is a gem, with its Dr. Seuss murals, a bank of munchkin-size computer desks, and charming displays of vintage books, like Where the Wild Things Are and The Wizard of Oz.

The second floor contains business and social science collections, a health and wellness center, and a beach-themed teen center and homework area.  The third floor holds periodicals, newspapers and is a regional repository for 1.6 million government documents.

Floor four is the Qualcomm Technology Floor, with a TV and media studio, a state-of-the-art computer lab, and a 3D printer;  but it also houses the literature collection. The fifth floor is home to History, Geography, Biographies,  and Travel, with special areas devoted to WWII and the Holocaust.

Floors six and seven contain the  e3 Civic High charter school. There is no public access to the school which now has 250 students and will double by next year.

The eighth floor is home to the spectacular 4,096 square foot Helen Price Reading Room, with its 64 foot tall glass walls that look out on the city and bay. Sun-dappled light streams through the massive dome overhead onto comfy loveseats, desks and wicker armchairs.  In fact, there are little nooks and niches throughout the library where you can settle in and lose yourself in a good book and enjoy the vast array of public art. The eighth floor also holds the Art, Music, Sports, and Entertainment collections. Here you’ll also find the Sullivan Family Baseball Research Center – with the largest baseball archive outside of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Rising above the ninth (and top) floor is the magnificent latticework dome, already an iconic landmark on San Diego’s skyline.  It is made of eight steel mesh ‘sails’ that hold solar panels, and is 143 feet in diameter – larger than that of the U.S. Capitol Building!  And, if the wind is just right, the openwork dome ‘hums’.

But the ninth floor is where you’ll want to be.  Here you’ll find three rooftop terraces, various meeting venues, an art gallery, an ivied sculpture garden (with whimsical furniture), and the Hervey Rare Book Room (which isn’t open yet, but will house treasures like a cuneiform tablet dating from 2300 B.C.).    AND (drum roll, please), this is where you’ll find the California Room with its San Diego Heritage Center and genealogical resources. Thanks to the San Diego Genealogical Society’s addition of their large collection, this is now the largest genealogical collection in the region.  Since this is probably your ultimate destination, maybe this will help:

Some tips:

a) Plan your first visit for a Tuesday, Thursday or Friday when the library opens at 9:30am. Hours are:  Mon & Wed – Noon to 8pm;  Tues, Thurs, Fri – 9:30am to 5:30pm;  Sat – 9:30 to 2:30;  Sun – 1 to 5pm.

b) Take the Trolley.  Even though the 250 spaces in the two story underground parking are free now, soon they’ll be “two hours free with validation”.   You genealogists know two hours is never enough.  Take the Blue Line trolley from the Chula Vista H Street station to the Park & Market stop. Then just walk a block south to the library and spend all day. A Senior One Way fare is only $1.25.

c) Pack a lunch.  The café in the garden court will open in about a month. You can walk a block toward Petco Park to Lolita’s or other eateries, but why waste time and energy that you could be spending in the stacks?  Enjoy your picnic on the ninth floor patio with its sweeping views of the city and the bay.

d) Take some one dollar bills.  Use them for the trolley, to get a library card ($2), and especially to get a copy card, which you’ll load like a cash card. The card machines are in the Copy Centers on the 2nd,, 4th and 8th floors. You don’t need a library card to get a copy card.

e) Have a plan. My first visit consisted of just wandering around, agog at all there was to see.  Before you go, enjoy a video tour at   And see the library’s website for general info and their catalog

f) Restrooms are behind the elevator banks on each floor.  None on the ground floor, however.  Notice the book-shaped sinks!

For the Genealogist -  The ninth floor:

The Genealogy collection is, of course, all cataloged under the Dewey Decimal System -  by state (i.e.,  Pennsylvania is under 974.8), country (Ireland is 941.5), and general category (Civil War is 973.7). The front desk has the complete list. 

A bank of eight computers offers free access to, and there are tables with plenty of plugins for your laptop. I suggest you wander around the room a bit, to see where everything is.  Reference books (RGY) are toward the front, periodicals (PER) beyond that, and there is a bank of file cabinets in the back right with pamphlets, miscellaneous papers and self-published brochures (treasures there!)  –   all under the Dewey Decimal System. 

There are also two microfilm readers (with printers that take nickels at 15 cents per copy – come prepared) and two microfiche readers. The copy machine is in the very back (ask someone to show you how it works, it’s not as simple as it looks). Copies there are 20 cents each. Don’t forget to load money on your copy card. Digital photography is allowed, but please use no flash.

Know what you’ll focus on first by looking in the library’s catalog (see above).  I just typed in “genealogy Civil War” and got a good idea of where I wanted to look.  Everything here is for Reference, but the fifth floor has some history categories that can be checked out.  If you have other questions for the Special Collections/Genealogy Room, you can call the library at (619) 236-5800 and ask for the California Room.

Enjoy our amazing new Central Library.  Just don’t do what I did… I was so mesmerized and distracted that I tried to walk through a glass wall.

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