Reopening: The Pico Library is reopening with limited hours on Dec. 1. Courtesy photo

The pandemic gutted the Santa Monica library’s budget, but in an exciting milestone towards recovery, staff are preparing to reopen the Pico Branch for the first time in nineteen months.

Parents, children, students and adults young and old will soon be welcome to browse the branch’s collection, access its study rooms and utilize its computers. In person programming will also be coming back on a gradually scaling up basis beginning with family story time and activities in the adjacent park.

Starting Dec. 1 the Pico Branch will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and on the first Saturday of the month and from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday.

The Main Library opened with limited hours in June, while the Ocean Park Branch reopened under a self-service system at the end of July. The Montana Avenue Branch is offering curbside pick-up on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while the Fairview Branch is awaiting more funding to reopen.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled to reopen our beloved branch in the Pico neighborhood and welcome our patrons back inside the facility,” said Interim Library Director Erica Cuyugan. “Our team is focused on activating services to meet community needs. It has been heartwarming to see our youth and families come back for safe, in-person programs.”

The Santa Monica Public Library was one of the many departments hit hard by the City’s COVID budget restructuring. All libraries were closed for in-person service from March 2020 until this summer, while 40 percent of staff were eliminated.

Rebuilding to the vibrant, programming-packed, five branch system the community was used to will take time and dedicated new funding. However, the library employees and community supporters are hard at work rebuilding the system.

“The staff that we have here in this library are so dedicated and committed to doing the best that we can for our community and I think that we have to be grateful for that,” said Cuyugan, adding that staff are coming up with creative ways to connect with the community given their limited resources.

One example is the highly popular “take & make” activity kits that contain a range of free educational and craft materials for children to pick-up at the library and enjoy at home.

These kits have been so successful that the library team is now planning to roll out kits for their older adult members as another way to connect with this population. The first three adult kits will be gardening, technology and mindfulness themed.

Virtual programming such as book clubs is continuing, but the emphasis of the library is on growing its opportunities for in-person connections, which Cuyugan noted have been sorely missed by all community members.

“When we opened, oh my goodness, it was heartwarming to see people coming in and just being thankful that we were open… I saw kids bounding up and coming into the library,” said Cuyugan.

Future opportunities for expanding branch hours and openings will depend on increased funding, some of which could potentially come in February 2022 when City Council considers its mid-year budget revisions.

Cuyugan said that anyone who wants to help support the library should get involved with the library’s associated advocacy network Friends of the Santa Monica Public Library and can learn more by visiting: friendsofsmpl.org/

Those seeking more information on hours and services offered at each library location, can visit smpl.org/reopening.

Clara@smdp.com