A little over a year ago, on March 13, 2020, I remember standing in my office at work when I heard the world was “shutting down.” I was wishing a friend and colleague farewell on his last day at work, and I recall the uncertainty between us about whether or not we could hug or even shake hands to say goodbye. Since then, many have grown accustomed to all of the recommended safety measures that decrease the spread of COVID-19. This has had a great impact on all of our lives, especially for children and youth. As a psychologist working with children and a father of two young kids, I have seen firsthand the impact that our world’s response to COVID-19 has had on children: the social isolation, lack of playdates and get-togethers, learning on computers as a substitute to learning and connecting with peers in person, and a fear of them or loved ones getting sick or even dying.

Lockdown has had a big impact on children’s mental health in many ways including depression, anxiety, poor concentration, sleep disturbance, increased irritability or tantrums, heightened pre-occupation with physical appearance, and an increased concern with health and safety. Luckily, children are very resilient. Despite all the hardships in the past year, our life and communities are starting to return to normal. Our children are now beginning to get back to school, go on playdates and see friends again, and once again gain access to all that our communities have to offer.

Something that has always stood out to the children I work with as well as my own children are how much they love the library and everything it has to offer. In addition to meaningful resources directed towards literacy and mental wellness, our libraries provide our community with a place to come together, socialize, and make new connections. Due to the impact of COVID-19, a lack of connectivity and socialization has had a strong impact on our children and their socioemotional development. It’s time to get our children connected to each other and their communities again; and, in my opinion, re-funding, re-staffing, and re-opening our city’s libraries are a great and absolutely essential way to do that.

In our libraries, story times give young children a chance to be surrounded with books, to hear and learn new words, to play, and to see other children who are going through the same developmental changes as them. Many of these young children are not yet in school and, for some, story time is the only chance they get to see other children singing, talking, reading, writing, playing, and laughing. For teenagers and young adults, the library provides a resource to help expand their curiosities and interests outside of their school curriculum and to interact with others with similar interests, with libraries providing them access to music, literature, film, and art.

This is why I strongly believe Santa Monica should increase library services beyond what was in the City’s Fiscal Year 2021/2023 Proposed Budget. The City should enhance library services as much as possible to counteract the existing impacts of the lockdown and allow our children to thrive. In addition, the City should continue to do this as more funding becomes available. Based on my current understanding, the budget the City Council will approve on June 22, 2021 does not just impact library access in 2021, but it will also impact library access in 2022, 2023, and beyond. To provide some perspective, what the City Council decides this month will impact today’s Pre-K students’ library access until they are entering third grade. The positive impact that re-opening libraries will have on children is indisputable, and I strongly urge the City of

Santa Monica to take the necessary steps and re-fund the Santa Monica Public Library system, re-staff our libraries, and re-open the closed branches to the greatest extent possible.

David Alvarado, Psy.D. Child Psychologist, Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center. Email save.sm.library@gmail.com or contact @SaveSMLibrary1 for more information.