Open: Local libraries are adopting self-service models to increase the services available. Courtesy images

Faced with a drastically slashed budget, the Santa Monica Public Library is launching a unique self-service model to bring as many of its in-person services back to the public as possible.

Starting June 1, the Main Library at 601 Santa Monica Blvd will open access to its first floor. Residents are welcome to browse the collection, make use of computers and printers, and check out items. Staff members will remain onsite to answer questions and assist with services.

A month later on July 1, the Ocean Park Branch at 2601 Main Street will open with a new self-service model, allowing users to independently use the computers, check out and return items, and explore the collection.

This is an exciting reversal of fortune for the library team, who previously feared they would not have the ability to reopen multiple branches. Due to the City’s budget restructuring in 2020, the library went from 112 full-time equivalent staff members to just 47.

“When COVID happened we really lost all of our capacity and resources and there was a lot of demand to open up all of our facilities, but we really couldn’t given our limited staffing,” said Library Services Director Patty Wong. “Luckily, it just so happened that the State Library of California had initiated grants to give 10 self-service systems away.”

Library staff had been examining this system for a while as a means to extend branches’ hours of operation. They jumped on the opportunity and are excited to use the program to accelerate their reopening.

In order to participate in the self-service pilot program, residents will need to be a library member for at least one year without any outstanding fees. One they sign an agreement to take good care of the equipment and materials, they will be able to use their library card to swipe into the Ocean Park Branch.

Visitors to both branches will be required to wear a mask and are encouraged to spend no more than 30 minutes at a time as there will be capacity restrictions in place.

The reopening of local libraries is an exciting prospect for all community members and especially for the many students, older residents, and low-income individuals who rely on its wifi, printing, tutoring, and job training services.

“We have people who come into the library for a variety of reasons, sometimes to charge their phone, sometimes to just take a load off their feet, and other times because they don’t have anywhere else to go,” said Wong. “We support community members from all walks of life.”

This philosophy is reflected in the broad range of programming offered by the library, much of which has continued in a virtual format over the pandemic. There are online book clubs, tutoring resources, story read-alouds, high school diploma programs, author talks, summer education kits for kids and more.

“We are planning in-person programming to be put in place to accompany summer reading and the many activities that we have,” said Wong. “There will be a hybrid development of both in-person and virtual programming. We’re going to start small but will be scaling up along with our reopening plans.”

The Montana Avenue and Pico branch libraries will remain closed to the public for now, but continue to offer curbside pickup throughout the summer. The public library team is working with the City to increase funding for more staff members under its next budget.

For more information on the hours and services offered at each library, Wong said residents should visit smpl.org/reopening.

Clara@smdp.com