Main Library (File photo)

Library cards will be free for all who want them, residents and visitors alike, thanks to a decision by the City Council at their Jan. 26 meeting.

As part of their budget discussion last week, the City Council eliminated a $25 fee that had been imposed on non-residents applying for a Santa Monica Library card. The fee will disappear as of Feb. 1.

The fee had been in place for about two years. City Hall required each department to cut up to 5-percent of its budget, or suggest alternate revenue sources. The non-resident fee emerged as a means of meeting those goals while retaining the high level of service demanded by Santa Monica residents.

The fee succeeded in generating revenue. It brought in about $152,000 in the first year and about $144,000 in the second. However revenue was projected to decline with at 13-percent drop predicted this year. There were also costs associated with the system.

However, charging non-residents for a card put Santa Monica at odds with library best practices.

The Santa Monica library system was disqualified from membership in the Southern California Library Consortium (SCLC) and local librarians were unable to receive professional development or other resources from the organization. The fee also prevented Santa Monica from receiving funding from the state that is used to recoup costs associated with inter-agency operations.

“The City’s current practice of assessing a non-resident fee is broadly perceived as exclusionary, especially by neighboring library systems such as Los Angeles Public Library and the County of Los Angeles Public Library, who both offer Santa Monica residents free cards to access their large library networks,” said the staff report.

Prior to Tuesday’s Council vote the Santa Monica Public Library Board had recommended eliminating the non-resident library card fee and keeping the budget at its current level. Organizations including the Santa Monica Public Library Board, the Innovation Technology Task Force and the Friends of the Santa Monica Public Library Board also advocated for dropping the fee.

According to Erica Cuyugan, acting assistant city librarian, the system has cut more than $200,000 from its budget, and while those funds are unlikely to return, the organization is pleased to be offering free cards again.

“90-percent of libraries provide free cards,” she said. “We want to be more aligned with that. Just in general, the idea of sharing with our neighbors in L.A. and Los Angeles County, where our Santa Monica residents could get cards for free.”

Cuyugan said the fee had also become a topic of discussion among library users and removal of the fee had been discussed during recent the strategic planning process.

“There had been a lot of community feedback and with the move to be more inclusive and fit with other libraries we’re looking forward to welcoming new visitors,” she said.

For more information, visit smpl.org or contact the Santa Monica Public Library at (310) 458-8600.

editor@www.smdp.com