09/26/2014 12:37 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

School in a Library Sparks Widespread Interest

It took 30 years or so to build the San Diego Downtown library. Money was always an issue, but mostly, I suspect, it was because of the common perception that libraries were dying in the wake of Google and the sheer number of online sites available at the click of the mouse.

However, when you add a cutting edge charter school to the thinking about a new library, along with an art gallery, an auditorium, a rare books room, a teen center, and a section devoted to children, what you have is a very special place; one that hundreds of visitors from around the world are exploring.

Everything is housed inside a building that cries out for adoration and amazement like the Sydney Opera House. In fact, it is fair to say that the Downtown Library has already become a monument to the city, and E3 Civic High, as the school is named, a model for the future of education.


E3 Civic High is thought to be the only school in the nation housed in a library, and draws heavily on the resources of downtown where students are serving in professional internships, job shadowing and have the chance to graduate with both a diploma and a community college degree.

The school, which occupies the sixth and seventh floors of the library, uses project-based learning techniques that ask students to tackle real world problems with lessons that combine multiple subjects. For example, in a class that combines algebra, geometry and statistics, students study San Diego crime patterns. In addition to analyzing crime statistics, students study cause and correlation and then collaborate to find ways to curb crime. The curriculum is often team taught, and "art integrated," that is teaching many disciplines at one time and using the arts, broadly defined, as the vehicle to do so.

E3 Civic High believes the "co-location of a charter high school within a public library ... offers extensive opportunities for collaboration, as both organizations support a mission of lifelong learning and literacy." The design of both the library and the school is unique too. Art is everywhere. Open spaces, tables and comfortable chairs invite collaboration. For most students this a fun, and exciting place to be, very much unlike the schools they ever attended.


To launch the library and tell the world that something new and exciting was being born, students at San Diego State University (SDSU) designed a logo calling it "The Next Chapter."

According to retired library director Deborah Barrow, the new logo like the new library "represents a rebirth for the entire San Diego Public Library system." 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."2014-09-16-library589.jpg As expected, the new library has all the bells and whistles our techno age can offer including fiber optic architecture allowing for high bandwidth transmission which 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 in a layout pattern 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 multi-sensory experience to grab visitor attention and let them know they are entering a technological library of the future.

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

• Weaves in the theme of literacy and the Library's new tagline, "Discover Your Next Chapter."

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, or the library per se. It's goal, as Helen Griffith put it, 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 San Diego Downtown Library and E3 Civic High celebrate their first anniversary this weekend. There is a lot to celebrate.