February 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

When the Library Is Bigger Than the School

San Diego’s new 400,000-square-foot Central Library.

Imagine a school library bigger than the school it supports—with an auditorium, homework center, and a 6,000-square-foot teen room where hundreds of iPads and computers are at students’ disposal. That’s the reality for 9th and 10th graders at San Diego’s new e3 Civic High School, a public charter school literally inside the recently completed 400,000-square foot, $185-million Central Library downtown.

“Where could you possibly get a school where you can introduce bibliographic instruction in your curriculum and also decide how their information gathering will be,” says Marina Claudio-Perez, youth services coordinator for the San Diego Public Library’s new Central Library, which is set to open its doors on September 28. “We have a captive audience.”

Indeed, San Diego’s educational, library, and philanthropic power brokers designed the scenario for this result. San Diego approved a 40-year, $20 million lease for e3 Civic High’s use of the 6th and 7th floors in the new building, says Mel Katz, chair of the San Diego Public Library Foundation, executive officer for e3 Civic High Board of Directors, and owner of Manpower Staffing Services of San Diego.

Future students will also have a voice—giving input in how the library will be integrated into their studies, says Claudio-Perez. “The mapping of the service for them is going to be defined by the students,” she says. “We will sit down with them, my teen librarian and guidance from the teachers.”

The new library includes a 6,000-square-foot teen room.

While 9th and 10th grader make up the first year’s student body at e3 Civic High School, the campus will expand over the next two years, eventually reaching the 12th grade to include 530 students. All will have access to the library’s sculpture court, art gallery, and even a special events room that can handle 400 people, says Katz, larger than the entire student body to start. The library’s resources of more than 1,000,000 books, DVDs, and CDs will also be at their disposal—two-thirds of which had been stored in the former Central Library basement for lack of space, he adds.

“It’s unbelievable synergy to have the school there for the library people,” says Katz.

With e3 Civic High opening its doors on Sept 3—about four weeks before the library opens it doors— its 260 new students have already made use of some of the facilities, including a morning kick-off in the 350-seat standalone auditorium, with breakfast in the courtyard. Students will continue to be encouraged to not only use the library, among other downtown civic resources, but volunteer as well, acting as mentors to younger students.

The new library’s teen room overlooks downtown San Diego.

Although the school lacks a dedicated certified media specialist (students will have to share staff librarians with the rest of the library’s patrons) there is a dedicated teen librarian, a manager for the children’s space, plus staff for the homework center.

The library is also working with adult volunteers so staff can have more direct time with patrons, says Marion Hubbard, senior public information officer for the San Diego Public Library.

Teachers and librarians have already started collaborating about how they can build synergy between the two. Claudio-Perez note’s that the high school’s humanities teacher has just inquired how the game room could be tied into a writing lesson, and she expects other curriculum connections to happen naturally. She knows this will present both a challenge and an opportunity for both parties—and particularly students.

“For many years we have battled against how schools and libraries have tried to have a good relationship,” she says. “But I think this will be beneficial not just for the students and the school, but also the library.”

Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at www.laurenbarack.com.

Building Literacy-Rich Communities
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  1. Martha von Schilgen says:

    School librarians are trained as teachers AND librarians who support the curriculua taught in every subject. Why wouldn’t a high school want a school librarian? I can see why a charter school would love to be attached to a library with a much broader and deeper collection with such nice tech tools. Me, too!

  2. Rebecca N says:

    Originally, the idea was floated for a PUBLIC elementary school (and it was actually needed in the area, unlike this high school), which was eventually dismissed for a variety of reasons. Then it was a public high school, but finally it ended up being a charter school so they wouldn’t have to make the entire building meet the requirements of the Field Act, which means this building is less safe for its students, as charter schools are conveniently exempt from this requirement. So what we have is an unnecessary charter school, which has little public oversight. It occupies a taxpayer’s resource and every year it will siphon off more money that is desperately needed by our real public schools (and no, charters are NOT public schools, several courts have ruled as such). Billionaire charter advocate Jacobs was instrumental in making this happen. I love libraries but absolutely hate it that a charter school was added to the package. They could have left the school out of the equation entirely unfortunately when billionaire “philanthropists” are involved there are always strings attached.