In his short story “The Library of Babel,” Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges creates a universe in which his narrator lives in a library. But, this isn’t just a library. This library is the universe in which all information, from the most trivial nonsense to the most profound phenomena is stored.
My mom was the head art librarian at SDSU from the 1960s into the ’80s. So, Borges’ story rings particularly true for me. I remember getting lost many times in the catacombs of San Diego State’s Love Library, playing hide-and-seek with not only friends and relatives but also with myself as well. The Love Library was a Disneyland ride into which I often descended on weekends. It was a universe onto itself where physical space closed in and expanded simultaneously, where the breadth of phenomenology was to be found no further than the reference desk, the card catalogue, and the Dewy Decimal System. If only they could have filled the aisles with white-water and let me ride a boat down the rapids. The Love Library was my Pirates of the Caribbean.
Fast forward 35 years and a new adventure awaits. Now, Troubadour friend and local musician Pete Miesner is your tour guide. That’s because Pete is the newly named librarian in charge of the art, music, and recreation section of the newly-opened Central Library in downtown San Diego.
Pete was born in Virginia, coming to San Diego in 1969 at the age of six. He started playing guitar at age 13, borrowing Beatles, Stones, and Yardbirds LPs from his older siblings. His parents were also into music, his mom liked the popular folk music of the ’60s, his father, the American songbook.
In 1979, Pete joined fabled local band the Crawdaddys at age 16. The Crawdaddys were at the epicenter of San Diego’s growing Punk scene and the band was soon playing the Skeleton Club, North Park Lion’s Club, and the Zebra Club. Yet, the Crawdaddys were more of a British R&B and American Blues influenced group. “Bills were much more eclectic and varied in those days,” Pete recalls.
In 1985, he joined the Tell-Tale Hearts to replace Eric Bacher and then went on to form the Town Criers with Ray Brandes, Tom Ward, and Dave Klowden, playing country-influenced rock. “We were into the Flying Burrito Brothers. This was around 1987.” He joined the Shapiros, a country swing outfit with Romy Kaye, Dave Ellison, Mark Z, and Dave Klowden in the early ’90s.
Becoming a father in the mid-’90s, Pete took a break from playing in a band yet still found time to play solo, a lot of country, roots, and Tin Pan Alley.
He met fellow guitarist Beston Barnett in 2004 through a mutual love of Tin Pan Alley and Hoagy Carmichael. They started what has become the Zzymzzy Quartet. With clarinetist Matt Gill and bassist Paul Hormick, they are celebrating 10 years together, playing swing dances, coffeehouses, weddings, bar mitzvahs, and “even séances.”
Pete had also started working for the San Diego library system in 1997, finishing his MLS degree in 2007. And, with the opening of the new Central Library downtown last year, Pete assumed the position of supervisor of its art, music and recreation section.
“I am blessed to be working, serving the public to access information and materials and offer programming in a subject near and dear to me,” Pete says.
The idea of a new central library has been around since the 1970s. However, the idea has not been without complications and controversy. Then the Great Recession hit and the city started struggling financially. So, rather than the typical bond-financed library expansion, the Library had to rely largely on donors. The San Diego Public Library Foundation really worked miracles in reaching out to many generous donors to make this happen. They are still tirelessly working to help the system in providing services in still lean times.
Finally, the new Library opened on September 30, 2013. Designed by architect Rob Quigley, it stands as a further reminder that the old San Diego downtown of the El Cortez Hotel and Santa Fe train station is quickly becoming consumed by a new multi-leveled, multi-angled, multi-tiered post-modern landscape. “The dome is meant to mirror the domes of Balboa Park. It is an open dome – like an open mind,” Pete shares.
One big problem with the old library was floor space. And, thousands of books were hidden in storage for lack of space. The new building not only provides ample space for the physical collection, there is additional space for meetings, artwork, and performances. The administration is emphasizing creativity rather than restraint when it comes to exploring what might be done with this new library’s many rooms, floors, and breathtaking views.
“This means I can use our auditorium, a variety of performance spaces, or even the rooftop terrace. We can do musical performances, poetry workshops, lectures, and classes. Basically, we can experiment with how we use the space.”
Now, the collection can see the light of day. “I now have what once were storage items out on public shelves for easy access and also serendipitous discovery by our patrons.”
The art, music, and recreation collection can be found on the eighth floor. So, along with art and music, the collection includes books on dance, sports, games, crafts, knitting, and much more – over 130,000 volumes. Regarding music, there are 40,000 music CDs, 5,000 albums, 11,000 books on music, and 18,000 music scores of classical, jazz, folk, and popular music. The collection of fake books and lead sheets is impressive, too. Many don’t know about the Anderson fake book (which covers traditional jazz and Tin-Pan Alley) this multi-volume set includes the lead sheets for over 8,500 songs. Pete also oversees the Sullivan Family Baseball Research Center and the Society for American Baseball Research collection, one of the largest baseball collections outside of Cooperstown, New York.
“With this new library, we are hoping to create a space not only for traditional library purposes of promoting literacy and providing materials, but also create a community space where the people of San Diego see this as a place to be used for any number of purposes – meeting, entertainment, performance, lectures. We want to encourage partnerships and engage the community through our programming,” Pete explains.
“We have always had an incredible collection. We also have San Diego’s longest continuously running classical music concert series. Now, we have Shoutin’ in the Library, a rooftop concert series and Artful Conversations, a lecture series that covers art and the performance arts.”
Not only is the new library functional, but Quigley’s masterpiece also provides beautiful, south-facing views of San Diego Bay with large windows allowing for natural light to flood the public spaces, reading rooms, and numerous study tables.
And with the new library built, Pete wants to partner with other institutions to further the library’s mission. An example would be partnering with KSDS/Jazz88.3Z to bring more live, free music to the downtown area.
To further spice up your trip to the Central Library, there is also an outdoor Café, a gift shop run by the Library Foundation, and two-hour free underground parking.
To learn more about the Central Library, especially Pete’s ongoing Concert Series and Shoutin’ in the Library, please visit the Library website at www.sandiego.gov/public-library/ or plan your own adventure packet and visit the Library at 330 Park Blvd just east of the Gaslamp and Petco Park.