MONTANA AVE — At a time when some are questioning the viability of libraries and publishing companies in light of the recent release of Apple’s iPad, Santa Monica’s libraries are busier than ever, said City Librarian Greg Mullen.

One such library is the Montana Avenue Branch, which will celebrate 50 years of existence this weekend.

Mullen said the number of people using local libraries is up considerably because of the sluggish economy. People would rather rent than buy, or may be looking for books to help them beef up their resumes.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary, there is a full day of festivities planned for April 10. There will be performances from the popular Los Angeles magician Tony Daniels and the folk duo Sometimes in Tune from the Topanga Bajo and Fiddle contest. There will also be a DJ spinning 1960s music, refreshments, crafts, surprises, and a birthday cake. The event will be free and open to the public, lasting from 10:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

Montana Branch Manager Terrie Dorio laughed and agreed that there was certainly a lot going on, but she said that she is excited. The 50th anniversary of the Montana Branch is really an opportunity to celebrate the library, Mullen said.

“Hitting that milestone is pretty significant. We really have enjoyed tremendous support from the community,” he said.

“The library is a lot more crowded than it was a couple of years ago,” Dorio added.

When considering the advancement of technology, it may seem counterintuitive that libraries would be busier, but Mullen said that last year the Santa Monica Library circulated more than ever. From ‘07 to ‘09 the Montana Branch has seen a 22 percent increase in circulation for adults, a 12 percent increase for children, and their number of visitors is up 20 percent.

In 2002, the Montana library was also remodeled. A meeting room was added, the children’s area was modified, and some cabling was put in for more technology. Dorio was quick to say that technology has been the biggest change throughout the years.

When Dorio started in 1979, there were no computers, she said. Now the library has launched a “TXT 4 Answers” program where anyone can text a question to the library and a librarian will answer in minutes. They also do references through e-mail and over the phone. Dorio added that a lot of people are coming in to use the Internet, but a lot of people are also coming just to check books out.

Mullen explained the concept of the library as an interesting one considering the idea for libraries began from information being scarce, and now it is all around us.

“The format has obviously changed,” Mullen said, and predicted that in the future there would just not be as much “physical stuff.”

“The libraries will always be libraries,” Dorio said. Even though research is different now than it was, they still serve a big function, she said.

“The library is a place where people can come together and build a community around local issues,” Mullen said. “Certainly we’ve changed a lot in the last 50 years, but there are some core services that continue.”

There are still places for reading and for child development through story time and bringing kids together, and a lot of people come looking for do-it-yourself books instead of paying repair men. As far as the biggest change, there has just been such a huge growth in media, Mullen said.

The city libraries have seen a lot of growth since the first city library was founded in 1890, and the Ocean Park Branch has been around since 1917. The Fairview Branch also celebrated its 50th anniversary a couple of years ago.

Dorio and Mullen agree that there are many more technological advances to look forward to in the future, and the library will continue to adapt.

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