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Susan Atkins: Championing LGBT recognition in the new Central Library

Susan Atkins

June 28, 2010 the San Diego City Council voted 6-2 to approve construction of the new San Diego Central Library. At the time the project had its detractors. Councilmembers Carl DeMaio and Sherri Lightner voted against the library saying it was too expensive and the City could not afford it. Former City Attorney Michael Aguirre was also opposed to the project, once again citing costs.

The library’s architect, Rob Wellington Quigley noted at the time that the new central library had been a long time coming. “I know people have been involved in this for 30 years,” he said. “We were hired almost 17 years ago. Luckily they were smart enough to hire a young architect.”

The San Diego Central Library may have had its detractors and it may have been a long time coming but fast forward to today and the library is almost complete. The current Central Library will be closing Sunday, June 9 in preparation for the move and the Grand Opening of the new Central Library at 330 Park Blvd. has been set for Saturday, Sept. 28.

One of the foremost visions with this new library was to create a civic space that would allow San Diego to showcase its diverse communities and define its regional pride.

For one of San Diego’s communities the opening of the library could not have happened at a more significant time. 2013 is fast evolving as a historic year for the LGBT community with marriage equality at the vanguard of the fight for total LGBT equality.

The new Central Library provides the perfect platform for the LGBT community to forever memorialize the importance of this year for San Diego LGBT Americans.

Recognizing that, longtime national and local LGBT leader and Library Commissioner Susan Atkins is spearheading a project to name an alcove window as a gift from the LGBT community.

The goal is to raise $150,000 to help fund the Teen Center and to grow and maintain the library’s LGBT collection. In recognition of the LGBT donation the Library Foundation will name one of the alcove windows overlooking Park Boulevard. The location of the LGBT window is significant as it will be next to the Social Studies section of the library which houses the library’s extensive LGBT collection (8,800 items). It is worth noting that this is one of the largest LGBT collections in the country and is buttressed by multiple online services and LGBT items throughout other collections in the library.

San Diego LGBT Weekly recently caught up with Susan Atkins and asked her about the origins of the campaign, the importance of it and how it was all going.

San Diego LGBT Weekly: Thanks, Susan for finding the time to talk to us. Firstly, how did this campaign start and who else is involved with it?

Susan Atkins: Libraries are enormously inclusive places – perhaps the last bastion of democracy where rich and poor, homeless, transgender, minority or elite get the same tireless service from dedicated library staff.

So, as a library commissioner for six years, I watched as our fantastic new Central Library began to take shape; and like everyone else, I was grateful when “the usual suspects” of generous, wealthy San Diegans began to step up and come up with nearly $60 million so far to fund this iconic new edifice. But I said to myself, “Where are the LGBT people? This is our library, too.” So many LGBT people in town are leaders in the community at large, but only a precious few know that they are gay unless they are elected officials.

So, I asked fellow commissioners if they thought an LGBT-focused fund would fly, and then I called some LGBT leaders and asked their advice and opinions, and following much positive feedback I got started on the campaign.

2013 is turning into a historic year for LGBT rights. How can the LGBT library campaign contribute to marking the significance of that?

Civil rights have never come easily in our country, but I think the idea of public lending libraries helps the cause. I further believe that because of the significance of the LGBT rights cases currently before the Supreme Court, and their likely outcome, the year 2013 will make “13” the lucky number for LGBT people. I think it is fitting for our very generous and outstanding San Diego LGBT community to mark this lucky “13” year by helping to fund and putting our name on this Central Library that will bolster our education and grace our skyline for at least the next 100 years.

I believe our fund and our name in the very heart of this iconic public library will acknowledge that the LGBT community is an integral part of the San Diego community. Also, I think it will help generations of San Diegans recognize and understand the extensive participation of LGBT people in the community.

How is the fundraising going? How close are you to reaching your goal?

So far we have more than $80,000 in the door (or pledged.) That’s more than half way to the $150,000 we hope to raise to name the grand alcove window near the LGBT collection – and near the Teen Center which is important!

The new San Diego Central Library

People who have stepped up so far with money and/or support include Gene Burkard and Ron Hicks, Randy Clark and Michael Clark, Bonnie Dumanis and Denise Nelesen, Susan Guinn and Denice Feldhaus, Jeanne Hall, Christine Kehoe and Julie Warren, Bob Nelson, Tracy Jarman and Marcia Bonini, Joyce Rowland and Pam Morgan, Todd Schultz and Paul Scott Silvera, Laura Shawver and Tracy Macuga, Maureen Steiner and Camille Davidson, Susan and Crystal Atkins-Weathers, Dr. Delores Jacobs at The LGBT Center, Kay Chandler at the Human Dignity Foundation, the Rescue Social Change Group and many others.

But we still have a way to go and I’ll keep smiling and dialing – with a little help from my friends – until we’re done.

What would you say to members of the LGBT community in order for them to donate to this fund?

The LGBT community has made huge contributions to San Diego, from serving on boards and commissions to volunteering, campaigning and donating to so many things that make San Diego a great city.

The LGBT community has a history of giving, and I want the greater San Diego community to know this. I also want everyone to be aware that among the highest users of the Central Library are homeless youth, and a staggering 40 percent of them are LGBT. I want us to help take care of our own. I want every LGBT person in San Diego, and every person who supports LGBT rights (our wonderful straight allies) to step up with whatever they can to help us reach this goal.

And finally, for those who can give larger amounts, this is a one-time (non-recurring), tax-deductible donation that can be paid out over several years.

How will the new Central Library serve the LGBT community?

The new Central Library will serve all of San Diego. From the richest to the poorest, every San Diegan will benefit from the resources in our library. This may be health information. It may be job information, school research projects, or LGBT information for a questioning youth or parent. The library is here for everyone. The facilities at the library will also provide meeting places and free public entertainment including LGBT-oriented pieces of entertainment, art and history.

Will the funds raised go toward anything else?

You know the funding for this library has been an amazing thing, from the State Library Association; from the Unified School District; from the old Center City Development Corporation and, of course, from private donors. The money we raise will be chiefly funneled into the Teen Center and into growing and maintaining the library’s LGBT collection. In recognition of the LGBT community’s generosity, we get to name a window. Some of it will also go to funding all of the expenses involved in this $185 million home for our new Central Library. And by the way, our new Central Library is the first in the nation to house a public school – on two of the top floors!

It is said that every great city has an iconic central library. Why is it important for the LGBT community to embrace this new project?

I feel that the LGBT community of San Diego benefits from everything that benefits the city. We know that libraries change lives, and we know they change them for the better. I want LGBT San Diegans to be a significant part of this life-changing event. And, I want San Diegans to know that we care.

Once this project is complete will there be any ongoing efforts to further enhance the LGBT presence in the library?

Throughout its lifetime, the library will continue to host exhibits of relevance to the LGBT community. The Lambda Archives has contributed exhibits, and I anticipate the national Lambda Literary Foundation and the local LGBT Center will provide exhibits, speakers and programs for the library as Lambda Archives has in the past.

At the time the City Council approved this project it had its detractors. What would you say to those individuals now?

You know, part of our democratic process is that anybody can voice their opinion about – well, about anything. There are good people who hold opposing opinions, but I think that even the nay-sayers will be proud of our new library. It is something that should bring us all together as San Diegans, and it is something in which we should all take great pride.

Finally, Susan, tell us about the Buy-a-Brick community campaign?

This is a very exciting campaign and an opportunity for donors to own a lasting piece of this community treasure. Commemorative bricks are available for donations of $150, $500, $1,000 and $2,500. Depending on the level of the donation the bricks will be placed in the main lobby, the trellis walk entrance to the library or in the garden courtyard. The donor’s name can be on the brick or the donor may want to write a special message to a loved one or in fact anything they want. A donor will have up to 36 characters to be creative!

An alcove window in the new Central Library

Overall, I am so proud to be involved in such a wonderful project and the generous participation of the LGBT community will mean that the new Central Library will truly reflect our LGBT pride.

Thank you, Susan, for all your efforts on behalf of the LGBT community.

Donations of any amount can be made to the LGBT initiative by sending checks made out to the Library Foundation to Jay Hill, chief executive officer, San Diego Public Library Foundation, 820 E Street, San Diego, CA 92101 with LGBT in the memo line, or by going online at give.supportmylibrary.org/LGBT and including LGBT in the comments section.

To purchase a commemorative brick visit give.supportmylibrary.org/buyabrick

Short URL: http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=37334

Posted by on May 23, 2013. Filed under Feature Story, Section 4A, Top Highlights. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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