Library: Patty Wong has served as library director since 2017. Courtesy photo

After successfully steering the City’s public libraries through a year and a half of extreme financial turbulence, Patty Wong is preparing for a new library director to take the helm.

As Wong parts ways with Santa Monica for a position as Library Director in the City of Santa Clara, she leaves behind a legacy of compassionate service, adult literacy programming, increased youth resources, and creative tech integrations.

“What attracted me to Santa Monica was the deep love of the library that our community has, which was evident from the first time I came to visit,” said Wong. “What I’m going to miss most is the camaraderie with our extraordinary staff and of course the interaction with the public.”

When the pandemic hit and Wong lost 65 full-time equivalent staff members, she worked tirelessly to restructure the libraries’ services and bring them back to the public to the safest and fullest extent possible.

This meant rapidly developing curbside pick-up services, converting programming to virtual equivalents, and applying for a grant that made the reopening of the Ocean Park Branch possible through a self-service system.

Wong also developed take-home education and activity kits for children to ensure they didn’t fall behind on their literacy benchmarks while the libraries were closed. She then advocated for the addition of a permanent youth services specialist in the revised budget to ensure youth programming does not get left behind as the library continues to grapple with reduced funding.

“We’re now in the process of rebuilding and reinvesting in library services in a different way. We’ve had to create new hybrid in-person models as well as our very popular digital resources,” said Wong. “We keep asking ourselves how can libraries best serve their communities and that means that we’re going to continue to look at new improved models.”

Wong encourages the next person who fills her position to continue exploring how technology can enhance the library’s resources and expand services under its restricted budget. She had begun looking into alternative funding sources for the library to protect it from the City’s budget volatility.

“I would say that moving forward funding diversification may need to be something that the new leadership works on because it will be many years before the library can be rebuilt entirely based on our current circumstances,” said Wong. “We may need a little bit more creativity in terms of investment.”

Wong began working at Santa Monica libraries in 2017 and pioneered many changes during her tenure. She revived an adult literacy program, which has graduated over 50 individuals. She also brought two social workers on site to address the needs of homeless library patrons.

Wong spearheaded efforts to recruit a more diverse workforce and coordinated speakers, discussions, and forums around racism and the fight for equality in response to last summer’s Black Lives Matter movement.

“I’m really proud of the strong work that we’ve done, both in the city, but especially at the library, focusing on equity, diversity and inclusion,” said Wong.

As she departs, Wong encourages community members to become involved with the libraries. She was very impressed with the Save Santa Monica Public Libraries group that emerged in May to push for more library funding and hopes residents continue to support their work.

“I would ask for the community’s patience as we reinvest in our library and remind people of all of the wonderful services that we currently have available,” said Wong. “And I strongly encourage all of the readers of the Daily Press to become advocates of the library through engaging with this new group.”

Clara@smdp.com