Santa Monica Public Library’s (SMPL) collections encompass a broad array of formats and a vast number of subjects.  Formats include printed books, magazines, newspapers, and maps, DVDs, music CDs, books on CD, as well as online versions of all of these.  Far from being static, these collections are ever-evolving to better provide our customers with the materials they desire for pleasure, research, and growth.

Circulation numbers bear out that our collections are well-used, with average circulation at more than 1.7 million items per year.

The roughly 300,000 titles (and 400,000 individual copies) are managed by library staff who select, prepare, display, maintain, and eventually withdraw materials to make room for more.  These efforts include many unseen steps intended to respond to our customers and to make materials readily available.

Selection: New materials are selected by Reference, Public Services and Youth Services librarians from bestseller lists, review journals, and publisher catalogs.  Statistics on circulation and number of patrons in line (on “hold,” in library-speak) for an item help us determine if additional copies of titles we already own are warranted to meet demand.  Our Youth Services staff routinely buy many copies of popular titles in order to capitalize on young readers’ current interests.    

SMPL partners with other City agencies to provide resources in support of common goals.  Santa Monica’s citywide “Building Blocks for Kindergarten Readiness” initiative is supported by the Library’s rich collection of picture books aimed at those aged 0-5, when exposure to language is critical.   We also partner with the City’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment to ensure we offer a selection of current, relevant materials on those topics.  We have over 1,500 titles in this collection.  If you’re interested, type “Sustainable Santa Monica Collection” in the catalog’s advanced-search feature.

SMPL staff also review customer suggestions for materials that might not otherwise come to our attention.  You can suggest a title online (at from the Books, Music, Movies tab, or come into any location and talk to us. We review all suggestions, though we are unable to respond to individual requests, so check the catalog to see if we’ve purchased your suggested title.

We add approximately 1,400 new titles per month to the library collection system-wide.  The majority of new titles appear in our catalog as soon as the order is placed, making it possible for you to place a hold even before we’ve received the materials.

Preparation:  Once materials are received, Information Management librarians select or create full digital descriptive records to represent each title in the online catalog.  Special collection notes are added to records, such as the Sustainable Santa Monica Collection or the Marcus O. Tucker Collection: Black Men of Courage.  Call numbers are assigned based on consideration of where customers are most likely to look for a title or topic, along with placing similar topics together, so that browsing our shelves or catalog leads to useful, serendipitous results.  Each item is then stamped, labeled and RFID-tagged for shelving and circulation.  Processing of new materials with holds is prioritized to make them available as soon as possible.

Display:  To see the latest additions as well as on-order titles, click on the “New Titles” link on the front page of our catalog (  Bestseller lists from the Los Angeles Times and New York Times are available in the catalog, as are award-winners from 23 diverse lists including the Bram Stoker Prize (horror fiction), the Prix Goncourt (French literature) and the Pulitzer.   Find out what our staff recommend under “Staff Picks.”   You can keep track of titles you’ve read or wish to read, share your lists with others, read or write reviews or place holds on materials any time, 24/7.    

For your visits to the Library, staff members organize monthly displays that highlight special topics or recommended titles.

Maintenance: Library materials that are ripped, broken or scratched are tended to daily by Library staff.  Broken book spines and ripped pages are fixed in-house; scratched DVDs and audiobooks are sent out for buffing.  Popular items that are damaged beyond repair are replaced.  We also routinely replace cases for DVDs and CDs, replace labels and tags of all kinds, and re-cover books.  We repair approximately 500 items a month.  If you notice an item is checked out for a longer-than-normal period, it may be checked out to staff for repair.

Along with physical maintenance, we transfer and re-classify materials to improve their visibility and use.  This year we undertook the re-classification of our entire music CD collection, changing from a long-standing but unintuitive scheme to a simpler nine-section organization.  We hope that these new categories will facilitate locating specific artists.  These are some of the ways we continually re-organize collections to better serve customers.

In addition, in order to reflect accurate holdings in the catalog, we perform inventory on a continual basis.

Withdrawal:  Materials that have circulated too little (indicating low demand) or too much (indicating they are worn) are considered for removal from the collection.  Popular but worn items are generally replaced with new copies.  Materials that are withdrawn from our catalog are delivered to the Friends of the Library Bookstore, located at the Main Library.  You can get a wide variety of titles at very low cost at the bookstore!  Proceeds benefit the Library, enabling programs such our youth summer reading program and Santa Monica Reads (our “one city, one book” reading program), or digitizing historic Santa Monica newspapers for our archive, Imagine Santa Monica.

Unlike many libraries that use outside services to create and maintain their collections, SMPL staff provide hands-on management of the Library collections and thoughtful analysis that reflect our responsiveness to the needs of our customers. Our aim is to shape and maintain our collections to be timely, useful, fun, inspiring, and available resources for our community.

Kara Steiniger is a librarian in the Information Management Division at Santa Monica Public Library.