A few years ago, when the city was deciding whether to go forward with San Diego’s new Central Library, there was discussion around town about the future of public libraries.
Did we need to replace the 1954 Central Library? (Most said yes.) Was San Diego Public Library focused on downtown at the expense of neighborhoods? (Half of the 35 neighborhood libraries have been built, rebuilt or expanded since 1989, with more projects planned.) Did a grand new structure make sense with a digital shift under way? Do libraries have a future? What does that look like?
Let me get one thing out of the way.
People don’t generally associate libraries with high-tech innovation. I get asked regularly about our quaint old card catalogs only to explain that they were digitized decades ago. San Diego Public Library’s catalog went digital in 1984 with remote access via Telnet and dial-up added in 1994. Internet access began in the city’s branches that same year, using the then-current browser, Netscape 1.0. In 2001, our libraries started circulating eBooks online. Three years later, free WiFi arrived in all of the city’s locations. All this is just to say that technology per se is familiar and unintimidating to libraries.
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