PICO BLVD — It’s 2 p.m. on Monday and the Pico Branch Library looks like one of City Hall’s optimistic renderings or their sunny brochures.
A 4-year-old girl navigates the new computers while her parents watch. A man scans the newspaper for job listings. A woman whispers to her son in Spanish. Natural light slips through skylights. There seems to be a patron of every ethnicity and age-group represented in the Pico neighborhood.
The grand opening for the $11 million library, the city’s first new branch in years, is in June. But, under the radar, the newest addition to Virginia Avenue Park opened for the first time late last week.
The front facade is white with black dots. “Pico Branch Library” is written in a lime-green that matches the building’s circus tent awnings.
Inside, a library assistant shows a patron how to use the Santa Monica Public Library system’s newest toy: an electronic book sorter.
She presses a couple buttons and the book sorter’s flap opens like a mouth. It’s fed a returning book, which slides along a conveyor belt into some back room where it will be sorted by genre.
Jesus Cordero, a library assistant, said that he’s worked at libraries where employees spent entire days sorting books by genre. Cordero, instead, has time to hold a door for a mother with a stroller, speaking to her in Spanish as she leaves.
He points out the fotonevala’s — short stories with Spanish text and comic book-like illustrations that are very popular in Mexico. Pico is the only Santa Monica Public Library branch that has a collection of them, Cordero said. He notes that the bottom shelf is already checked-out.
After 4 or 5 p.m. the place fills with middle school and high school students, he said. Some of them do their homework but most of them just hang out.
“It’s a good, safe, public place for them,” Cordero said.
The diverse Pico Neighborhood has been waiting for a library of their own for decades.
“Even before it opened you had people peeking in and waiting for the opening,” he said. “A lot of the community patrons stop by. A lot of the park people also come in here. On Saturday, we had the Farmers’ Market right outside. We’ve had a good amount of people come in since the opening. Obviously it will be busier as we go on.”
Curtis Chappell, who lives in the neighborhood, said he’s stopped by everyday since it opened.
Nikki Dyson lives in Venice but she goes to the Pico Farmers’ Market religiously on Saturdays. This Saturday she shelled out the $25 for a non-resident library card.
“The computers are amazing and it’s such a vast collection,” she said. “That’s easily worth the $25 for a year.”
Her 4-year-old and 20-month-old explored the stacks while Dyson worked the book sorter.
Cordero said they added about 20 library cards on opening day, some of them from out of the city.
The Cohn family sat at one of the children’s computers looking like they were planted by City Hall to make the new branch look utopian. Laurel, who is 4, clicked through a Dora the Explorer soccer game with her dad, Ben. Connie Cohn scanned some children’s books at a nearby table — looking for the right one for Laurel — and then pulled up a squat, colorful chair, joining them.
“It’s definitely the most beautiful library I’ve ever been in,” Ben Cohn said. “(Laurel’s) just learning how to read so we’ll be using it a lot.”
They moved across the street three years ago, before the library broke ground. Monday was their first time visiting and they were thrilled with the selection.
“It’s nice to have a library of all brand new books,” Connie Cohn said. “We’ve been waiting for this.”