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The Central Library Moves Hidden Treasures Out Into The Public Eye

New library will have more books in circulation

Evening Edition

Above: KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando finds hidden treasures in library basement as the San Diego Central Library moves to new location.

Aired 6/28/13 on KPBS News.

As the San Diego Central Library empties five floors of its shelves and moves to a new nine-floor building, many hidden items will become available.

Earlier this month, The San Diego Central Library began the daunting task of emptying out five floors of books, magazines, computers, furniture and documents, and moving them to the new nine-floor downtown library on Park Blvd. The move will allow for many items that have been hidden from view to be available to the public for the first time.

Do you remember the last time you moved? Now imagine if you had to move 1.2 million books, magazines and mangas plus another million government documents and keep them all in order according to the Dewey Decimel system.

Cyndy Shutler, the supervising librarian, said the move has been quite a challenge but it's moving forward.

Credit: Beth Accomando

More than a hundred years of the San Diego Union Tribune newspapers have been housed in the basement of the San Diego Central Library. These will be among the million plus items the library will need to move in the next few weeks.

"We have not increased our staff, so yes, it is a bit daunting. We have some professional movers, and we’re doing it in bits and pieces and you know, it’s going to happen,"she said.

The move began in early June with the books in the basement getting a thorough vacuuming.

"So when we get over to the new facility everything will be nice and clean," Shutler said.

And as with any move, you find things you forgot you had.

"An interesting find that we found the other day is Los Angeles Public Library had a fire about 10 years ago and we have some of their collection down here, they had forgotten about it, we had forgotten we had still had it," Shutler explained.

Credit: Beth Accomando

Some of the treasures in the San Diego Central Library's basement.

Rare books have also surfaced that had never been catalogued and now can be entered into the collection. Finds like these are exactly why the library took six months prior to the move to tag each of its million-plus volumes with radio frequency I.D.s (RFID). Now books can be tracked wherever they go, Shutler said.

"It will help for security, it will help identify if something is misshelved," Shutler said. "It’s been longstanding in libraries that if something is misshelved, it is lost. That will help a great deal."

As you descend into the bowels of the Central Library’s two floors of basements, you can see how these tags would help. Library director Deborah Barrow calls this her “hall of shame” because the library has been forced to keep nearly a third of its collection hidden. The move means a lot to Barrow.

"It means moving things out of this amazing basement upstairs to places where people can find them and use them because these are hidden treasures and people have not even known that they were here."

Credit: Beth Accomando

You expect a library to have books but perhaps not a collection of World War II propaganda posters.

At the new library, people will find more books in circulation as well as special collections, like some World War II propaganda posters on display. Shutler described one poster with a Sneech-like mosquito warning of the most dangerous places for malaria.

"This is Anne — she drinks blood. Her full name is Anopheles Mosquito, and she’s dying to meet you," Shutler said. "So Ted Geisel before he was Dr. Seuss, he was in the military and he was an illustrator and this is something he did."

Rick Crawford is supervisor for the library’s special collections. He’s looking forward to bringing the collection, which is currently divided between the basement and public floors, all together on one level.

"So it’s going to be easier for us to get out material. Just the move process is— we’re re-learning a lot of our collections because a lot of what’s down on A level has been down here for decades — long before we were even working here. So we are making discoveries as we get these items out and arrange them."

One of his favorite items is the great voter register from the late 1800s.

"This is information that is not recorded elsewhere," he said. "It’s not digital. Usually we only have the hard copy, and this period of time, records were kept in books such as this. So it’s unique, it’s one item — these aren’t published."

Credit: Beth Accomando

The voter register.

The massive leather bound volume recorded all registered voters in San Diego. It’s an insight into a different era. For one, there needed to be detailed descriptions of voters because there were no photo IDs back then.

"These were all men at this time because only men were voting but it gives their height, the color of their hair, the color of their eyes, visible scars, which is an interesting category. We have people here that are minus limbs," he said.

The basement also houses decades of the Union Tribune, including an issue from 100 years ago.

Cyndy Shutler read the headline: "Dadmun is indicted, grand larceny, money, false pretenses. And a huge ad taking much of the front page. It’s for the Marston Company. Fifth, Sixth and C streets."

Credit: Beth Accomando

A page of comics from one of the thousands of newspapers in the library basement.

You might think that as the library moves to a new facility, it will move more toward the digital — turning things like newspapers into just digital files — but Deborah Barrow says that’s not the case.

"This is an opportunity to have information in every format available to our public, and when I say every format, I mean Babylonian tablets, as well as Internet high-speed digital connections," Shutler said.

So even in the digital age, the Central Library wants to make sure there’s a place for physical objects. That’s why it’s bringing out the hidden treasures of its basement floors and making collections — some for the first time — available to the public.

The library move began on June 17 and is expected to finish by the end of July. The new library is scheduled to open on September 28.

Some recommended viewing: "84 Charing Cross Road, "Desk Set," "The Music Man" (for "Marion the Librarian Song"), "Ghostbusters"

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