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Residents frustrated over reduced staffing and limited hours at local libraries see hope on the horizon this week, with all five Santa Monica Public Library branches in line for potential staff increases and operating hour expansion; however, even if the proposal is approved, hours would still amount to less than half the total service time provided prior to the pandemic.

The economic fallout from COVID-19 caused the City to slash staffing in several municipal departments including the library system, which saw a 58% reduction in staff in 2020 — going from 112 full-time equivalent employees to 47. In the years that followed, the library has slowly begun adding additional staff and, as of this week, Santa Monica employs the equivalent of 61.2 full time employees (meaning enough staff to cover the work of that many employees, although some are part-time hires). 

Before the pandemic, Santa Monica’s five library branches were open for a cumulative 251.5 hours each week and no library operated fewer than 49 hours each week — four libraries were open six days a week and the Main Branch was open all seven.

Currently, the Main Library and Pico Branch are open five days a week with limited hours at all other branches; cumulatively, libraries are open for 98 hours each week across town, although over a quarter of those hours (28 hours per week) are at branches with curbside or self-service hours only.

The proposed expansion would include reopening all branches for standard in-person services for a cumulative total of 116 operating hours citywide per week, although they would cut down on the hours the Main Branch is open from 35 down to 32 hours per week to allow resources to spread to other branches.

The changes would be funded through a one-time $537,924 budget appropriation from the City’s general grant, and City Council is expected to discuss the proposed allocation when it meets on Wednesday, Aug. 24.

“On June 28, 2022, during the adoption of the FY 2022-23 Exception-Based Budget, City Council allocated resources for the Library to enhance Saturday hours at selected branch libraries and offer additional evening hours,” according to the report prepared for the Wednesday hearing. “Staff recommends the allocation of $537,924 in one-time capital improvement program projects that were deferred to increase library operating hours, including weekly Saturday service at both the Pico and Montana Avenue branches, and evening hours until 7 pm.”

The special city council meeting on Wednesday is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. and can be viewed at 1685 Main Street, Room 250, or virtually at youtube.com/user/Citytv16santamonica. Members of the public may also attend the meeting in person. Those who would like to address the City Council regarding this or any of the items on the agenda must be present and submit their name to the City Clerk before the public hearing is opened for that item.

emily@smdp.com