LIBRARY LOWDOWN ‚Äî Three months ago with bike and kitty in tow, I bid adieu to Boston, my beloved 20-year ‚Äòhood ‚Äî East Somerville, my dear friends and family, and hopped on a jet plane headed west. Why, you might ask? Like so many others who found themselves on the West Coast, I was following a hunch of a dream of possibility. Perhaps it had something to do with my 40-something somethingness ‚Äì a mixture of self-knowing that comes from experiencing love and loss, a thankfulness to be alive, combined with a gentle yearning for the unknown and a tug to continue to grow and not go gently into that good night. When the possibility of living in a sun-soaked city by the sea with Santa Monica standing on a heart became an offer, I was there. I was here. I am here, finding myself immersed in the joy of the endeavor at 601 Santa Monica Boulevard, at, in the words of Ray Oldenburg, this ‚Äògreat good place,‚Äô the community library.
As City Librarian, I am interested in the intersection of community, libraries, and civic life. In my role, I ask how the libraries can best serve residents and contribute to this vibrant community. Are we making a difference in people‚Äôs lives? How are we supporting learning and growth, from pre-kindergarten through college, career transitions, and retirement? I am delighted that the youth summer reading program for babies through teenagers saw an increase over last year of 20 percent with over 4,800 children and teens participating. As a third place for residents beyond their homes and offices, Santa Monica‚Äôs five libraries are open 11,000 hours a year, library staff and volunteers welcome over one million in-person visitors, and digital books, movies, music and research databases are available anytime. In my role, I also think about how we can build a more tolerant society. I believe that through reading, reflection, discussion, and practicing compassion for others, and ourselves, we can bridge understanding between groups.
As hate crimes continue to take place and the fear of “the other” perpetuates, the need for fostering tolerance and understanding is as paramount as ever. The Library is one entity, among many places and service providers in Santa Monica, in which this type of exploration can take place. F. Scott Fitzerald wrote, “That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you‚Äôre not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.” Through literature, we often discover our shared humanness.
Libraries also foster democratic expression. W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in The Souls of Black Folk, “Honest and earnest criticism from those whose interests are most nearly touched, ‚Äî criticism of writers by readers, of government by those governed, of leaders by those led, ‚Äî this is the soul of democracy and the safeguard of modern society.” The Library is an open, democratic place where everyone is invited to explore ideas, gain knowledge, talk to neighbors, and form educated opinions. Intellectual freedom rings as a core value of the American Library Association and at the Santa Monica Public Library.
Societal issues are discussed and new approaches and skills are developed through close to 2,000 programs and trainings Santa Monica‚Äôs libraries host each year with over 60,000 participants. Partnerships bring together leading artists, thought leaders, authors and the Friends of the Public Library provide vital funding. Partners include area schools and universities, local nonprofits, City departments, and many other groups.
As a lover of libraries, literature, films, and ideas, I registered for a Library Card the first week I moved in. And since being here, I have discovered so much more about the multitude of the library‚Äôs offerings and through the library‚Äôs intersection with partnering organizations and concerned residents, about the richness and vitality of the Santa Monica community. Some of my favorite discoveries have included listening to talented local musicians, hearing the stories of Library Board and Friends members, observing the talent and dedication of staff members, visiting the teen reading celebration and meeting Teen Advisory Council representatives, celebrating the Pico Branch Library opening, and trying laughing yoga at Montana Branch.
During the month of September, the library is holding a card registration campaign; I encourage you to sign up your neighbors and friends and introduce them to the multitude of library offerings. As a bonus incentive, all new registrants during this period will be entered in a drawing to win an iPad mini.
My first three months on Santa Monica Boulevard have been thoroughly rewarding. I am thankful to be working with super colleagues and dedicated community members in an inspirational hub of learning in this special city by the sea. Signing off, I invite you to come into the library and discover more.
Maria, Director of Library Services, is an American Library Association (ALA) elected councilor and former ALA Spectrum Scholar. She is also a 200-hour registered Yoga teacher and Reiki practitioner and likes to paddle and snowboard. She believes in living a life of abundant joy and love.