March 16, 2018

New San Diego Library To Open Debt Free

New San Diego Central Library

The new San Diego Central Library

The new San Diego Central Library (SDCL) opens to the public September 30, after years of uncertainty over its funding feasibility. The $184.9 million project has no public debt and includes a $10 million matching grant to cover operating costs for the next five years.

Two years ago the city council approved construction of the nine-story, 497,652 square foot building. The library occupies 366,673 square feet; a charter school occupies the top two floors, and there are two parking levels. San Diego Public Library (SDPL) director Deborah Barrow credits the city council for having “the faith to move forward,” even though the city was in an economic downturn.

Even with 35 branches, more than 60 percent of SDPL’s collection has been warehoused in basement storing owing to lack of space. With the new building, the collection size will increase from 780,000 to 1.26 million items, seats will triple to 1,200, and the size of children and teen areas will expand threefold.

The future of the old SCDL building, known by the same name as the new one, is still undetermined at this point, says SDPL public information officer Marion Hubbard. “Community input is being taken about various uses.” The former 144,524 square foot SDCL was built 57 years ago when the population of San Diego was 466,000—it now serves a population of 1.25 million. In addition to an outdated infrastructure, which is expensive to maintain, the facility contains asbestos.

Barrow, a San Diego native, returned five years ago to head SDPL, a few months before the $80 million development grant was set to expire. She used the old central library while growing up. Though “it was a thrill to work there as a director,” she told LJ, she is looking forward to the new building.


SDPL had many champions, said Barrow. She singles out SDPL Foundation chair Mel Katz and his staff for “putting this project over the top.” The goal of raising $75 million from private sources, $64.9 million plus $10 million for operational support, has been met, and covers about one third of SDCL’s cost. Twelve donors have given $1 million or more, including $30 million from Qualcomm cofounder Irwin Jacobs and his wife, Joan—a $10 million matching grant, plus an earlier $20 million donation. Other major donors include the Price and Hervey Families, Darlene Marcos Shiley in memory of Donald Shiley, Denny Sanford, Donald C. and Elizabeth M. Dickinson, and David Copley and Pauline Foster in memory of Stanley. In addition, more than 2,500 private donors have bought over 3,100 name-inscribed bricks in multiples ranging from $150 to $1000, totaling more than $741,000.

SDPL was also able to use $80 million in Centre City Development Corporation funds, which were earmarked for downtown development, though this way of using property taxes for local development projects was discontinued two years ago.

For more on the school and its collaboration with the library, see School Library Journal‘s “When the Library is Bigger than the School.”

Additionally, the California State Library awarded SDPL a $20 million construction grant, and the San Diego Unified School District paid $20 million to lease space for the charter school, which has a separate entrance. (The school opened this week, as per infoDOCKET). It always was part of the plan to find a compatible tenant, explained Barrow.

The library was able to keep within a 2005 budget projection because construction costs have fallen during the recent economic downturn. (That $185 million figure is up from a 2002 estimate of $149.5 million.)


The new building will cost $2.7 million more annually to operate than the previous one did, hence the need for the $10 million matching grant, to be supplemented by funds from parking fees, café proceeds, and event-space rentals. However, the number of staff (82 FTE) will remain mostly the same; a few new positions may be added to handle special events.

A new automated materials handling system will free circulation staff, who can be retrained to provide quick help while roving the busiest areas of the library. Technical services staffers, who previously were in a separate location, will also now be available to assist users. Branch personnel will be cross-trained to work in the new ­facility.

SDPL hired consultants to plan for the impact of the new facility on processes and staff. Sam McBane Mulford addressed process mapping, developing priorities, the move plan, and restructuring, while Jane Light, retired director, San José Public Library, worked with SDCL staff on operations strategies.


Staff members have been in the facility since July 27, adjusting to a new RFID system, loading in collections, and fine-tuning the menu of technology offerings. More than 300 devices will be available for checkout, including tablets and preloaded ereaders.

Digital displays will feature program information, wayfinding “totems,” donor recognition, art installations, QR-coded videos, and more. SDCL will include a 352-seat auditorium, technology-equipped study rooms, computer labs, gaming areas, and multimedia collaborative tables.

Aesthetic improvements also abound, including a three-story dome, made of lattice-work forming eight overlapping pieces atop a glass reading room.


SDPL already has reciprocal borrowing agreements with several area libraries via the San Diego Circuit, which includes San Diego County Library and four academic libraries. It serves as a regional federal and state government document repository, a regional U.S. Patent and Trademark Center, home to the Society of American Baseball Research, and the new home of the San Diego Genealogical Society collection.

In addition, in the new location, SDCL plans to become part of its “up and coming neighborhood,” said  Hubbard, which includes a law school as well as a homeless population. As part of its extensive array of partnerships, SDCL will have mental health workers on site, plus designated meeting rooms to aid those in need. A local television channel, with a studio on the premises, will offer TV crews as mentors. The IDEA (Innovation and Digital Expression Activity) Lab, funded by a state grant, with a Maker station and design lab functionality, will match up local designers with high school students. Plans are in the works for several partnerships with the resident charter school.



  1. Peggy Michel says:

    So happy that SD finally has an amazing world class library. Nice article except for the fact that it fails to mention the incredible architecture and the architect, Rob Wellington Quigley. SD should beam with pride as Mr. Wellington is a hometown boy.

  2. The print version of this, has a photo…. that looks suspiciously similar to the one the NYTimes ran about the NYPL’s Donnell Library. By suspiciously similar, I mean exactly alike.

    Do we have cookie cutter architecture or was the design abandoned by NYPL?

  3. I’m appalled at the new parking fees, with no consideration to students, seniors, or handicap patrons (who are forced to use the parking structure). Debt free, private donors, and grants to cover operation, and now they are soaking every extra inch of capitalism by charging more for parking that another nearby structure which is PRIVATELY owned. Unbelievable. As a full-time student and tax paying worker, I feel loathe to even consider the new library now. I can’t wait for the rest of the community to get wind of this quasi-evil parking scheme. TERRIBLE.