Downtown library marks first anniversary

The Central Library observes its first anniversary Saturday and there is plenty to celebrate.

It took 30 years or so to build the library. Money was always a challenge, but I suspect another issue was the common perception that libraries were dying because of Google and the sheer number of online sites available at the click of a mouse.

But in survey after survey, researchers have found that libraries continue to play a major role in fostering literacy, particularly among K-12 schoolchildren. It’s no surprise, then, that we are coming to recognize that libraries continue to be important institutions and central to the evolution of a knowledge economy.

When you add a charter school to the thinking about a new library — along with an art gallery, auditorium, rare books room, teen center and section for children — what you have is a very special place.

All these additions are housed in a building that cries out for adoration and amazement, like the Sydney Opera House. In fact, it is fair to say that the Central Library has already become a monument to the city.

Richard Weinstein, former dean of the UCLA School of Architecture and Urban Planning, talks about the "established connection between culture and commerce in the life of all great cities."

In a recent article, Weinstein asked us the image that comes to mind when we think about Sydney. It is, of course, "the opera house unfurling its nautical forms at the tip of the peninsula in the bay. For the traveler, as well as the citizens of Sydney, the building has become inseparable from the affirmative spirit of the place and its people."

To launch the library and tell the world that something new and exciting was being born, students at San Diego State University designed a logo for “The next chapter.”

Like the new library, the new logo “represents a rebirth for the entire San Diego Public Library system,” said retired library director Deborah Barrow.

An SDSU marketing executive added, “The new logo brings to mind the new Central Library’s iconic dome, which is becoming a prominent feature in the San Diego skyline. The main colors of the logo — teal and orange — reflect San Diego’s proximity to the ocean and the region’s vivid sunsets and sun-drenched hills.

As expected, the new library has all the bells and whistles our techno age can offer, including high-speed fiber optic architecture that supports all the next-generation services; Wi-Fi throughout the library, the garden courtyard and auditorium; a video wall in the foyer with multiple video screens placed at multiple angles and rotations, as well as access to14,000 DVDs, 1.2 million books and 1.6 million historic and governmental documents. Of course, every student has a Mac Book Air and Internet access, even at home for $9.95, if the family qualifies.

In addition, the library:

• Creates a multisensory experience to grab visitors’ attention and let them know they are entering a library of the future.

• Features images of San Diego with fast moving time-lapse shots of iconic locations and interactions.

• Weaves in the theme of literacy in the library’s new tagline, “Discover your next chapter.”

E3 Civic High, thought to be the only school in the nation housed in a library, draws heavily on downtown’s resources, where students take part in professional internships and job shadowing, and have the opportunity to graduate with both a high school diploma and community college degree.

The school, which occupies the sixth and seventh floors of the library, uses project-based techniques that ask students to tackle real-world problems with lessons that combine subjects.

For example, in a class that combines algebra, geometry and statistics, students will study San Diego crime patterns. In addition to analyzing crime statistics, students will study cause and correlation and then collaborate to find ways to curb crime.

Many of the courses at E3 are team-taught and "art integrated" — that is, teaching many disciplines at one time and using the arts, broadly defined, to give young people a set of new thinking skills badly need in the emerging innovation economy.

Dr. Helen V. Griffith, executive director of e3 Civic High, calls it a “revolution of the phenomenal ... a model for public education in a [high-tech], world-class, nine-story public library!” But the new school isn't about technology. Its goal, Griffith said, is “to create innovators, problem solvers and effective communicators who will become engaged in the business of making our city, our state, our nation and our world a better place.”

The new library is truly a monument to San Diego, and e3 Civic High is a marker in the future of education.

Eger, a telecommunications lawyer, is the Lionel Van Deerlin Endowed Professor of Communications and Public Policy at San Diego State University, and executive director of SDSU's International Center for Communications.

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