With a slashed budget limiting services to around 30 percent of pre-pandemic levels, the Santa Monica Public Library continues to operate under challenging conditions, but with the appointment of Erica Cuyugan as Library Director, the system is in adept and experienced hands.

Cuyugan is no stranger to the Santa Monica Public libraries nor to this position as she first served as interim director following Maria Carpenter’s departure in 2016 and has been holding the interim role again for the past ten months following Patty Wong ’s departure in 2021. Cuyugan first joined Santa Monica libraries as a teen services librarian in 2006 and has spent the last sixteen years rising through the ranks and becoming familiar with almost every nook and cranny of the five library branches.

She is thrilled to be stepping into this role on a permanent basis, after beating out several other candidates in a nationwide recruitment search, and feels ready to lead the library into its next chapter. 

“Regardless of what happens regarding the economy and budget, there’s that love of the library that really makes you feel like we’re part of the heart and soul of the neighborhoods and our city,” said Cuyugan. “And so that’s exciting to me still, even with the cuts that we’ve had, that we have opportunities to rebuild, reimagine, reevaluate what we can be for our community.”

A big part of restoring services is using creative strategies to reach library users. For example, at the end of July 2021, the Ocean Park Branch reopened for service two days a week using a self-service system and the Fairview Branch is slated to reopen for limited service using this same system this fall.  

While Cuyugan wishes there could be in-person assistance and programming at these branches, she is grateful that this system currently allows around 300 to 400 visits to the Ocean Park Library a week that would not otherwise happen. And, with hours currently limited at every branch in the system, Cuyugan is also looking at ways to deliver services outside of the physical branches.

“We are loaning out experience backpacks for early literacy learners called reading to-go kits and we’ve got senior activity kits that we’re rolling out again in partnership with Community Corps, so we are really trying to provide more in depth experiences with the materials and resources that we check out,” said Cuyugan. 

The library is not currently earmarked for a funding boost in the Fiscal Year 2022 to 2023 budget, which means that with the exception of the Fairview reopening, library hours will not be able to expand in the near-term future. However, Cuyugan is hopeful that as the local economy continues to rebound there may be room for more library funding during mid-year budget adjustments this winter. At the same time, she is helping lead a search for grant programs and other funding opportunities to make the library’s finances more resilient and less dependent on the city. 

Cuyugan believes it is the responsibility of the library to adapt its services around the evolving needs of the community and currently sees technology education and in-person connection as key focus areas. 

“Those connections are super important. We know after two years of not having them, we’ve heard so much from families and seniors about how they value just being in the library, being able to talk with people and ask their questions and browse,” said Cuyugan. 

She is particularly excited about the summer reading program for children and teens, which is kicking off with a luau celebration in the Main Library on June 4th. On June 4th, the 20th anniversary of Santa Monica Reads also begins and adult readers can pick-up a free copy of Joan Didion’s “Where I Was From” in preparation for the June 30 in-person book discussion. 

On the technology front, the library is planning a number of educational workshops designed to help senior patrons use a variety of devices.

“Where I want to focus on is being more adaptable and more adept and more responsive and in tune with the communities that we serve,” said Cuyugan.

For more information on library services, hours and programming visit https://smpl.org/