Photo by Aaron Mikail

With opening hours expanding 38% over current schedules and the addition of seven full-time-equivalent employees, the City of Santa Monica is spending a half-million dollars to enhance its library services for at least the next 12 months, which will include the long-awaited reopening of the Fairview Branch Library.

During a special city council meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 24, Santa Monica City Council voted unanimously, 7-0, to approve funding that will allow the libraries to move from operating a cumulative 84 hours per week up to 116 hours per week, with both Pico and Montana branch libraries open on Saturdays and at least one library branch open until 7 p.m. every day from Monday through Thursday.

While three branches — Main, Pico and Montana — will be operating with traditional staffing and services, the other two local library branches — Ocean Park and Fairview — will open with what’s known as the “open plus” self-service model, which Director of Library Services Erica Cuyugan said was “drawing attention from neighboring library systems” — in other words, it may serve as a model for nearby libraries.

Councilmember Gleam Davis asked Cuyugan to describe the “open-plus” model, which Davis said faced resistance from the Ocean Park neighborhood when it was first introduced in 2021 — “But now I get the sense that people are embracing it,” she added.

“So with open plus, we call it a self-service program and, basically, with your library card, you get access to that specific library,” Cuyugan said. “So, you do have to, you know, have your card; you have to put in your pin number. Once you enter the library, there is minimal staffing. We do have an LSO — a security officer — as well as one staff member, so at least two folks there. 

“But, essentially, it’s getting access to the library, the materials, being able to use the computers as well as the study tables,” she continued. “And you can do that, you know, at your leisure. What some have found is they enjoy doing that at Ocean Park.”

The Ocean Park Branch generally draws between 50 and 80 visitors per day, Cuyugan added. 

In response to questions about how that visitorship compares to other libraries in the system, Cuyugan said the Main Branch sees around 500-650 visitors per day while the Pico and Montana branches each see from 200-300 visitors daily.

“We are seeing increases through the months, so in May, we saw about 13,000 folks for the month across all the locations. And in June and July it’s 15-17,000. So, we’re seeing those increases in foot traffic and use is definitely increasing,” Cuyugan added.

One local resident who spoke before the hearing on Wednesday voiced concerns over security at library branches, saying prior to COVID-19 shut-downs security “had become a real concern for the public.” 

The issue of security was not specifically addressed during the meeting, but in an email following the decision, Cuyugan said it would continue to be a high priority as service was expanded.

“We are very excited about Council’s approval to expand library hours. With each enhancement, we have had to balance staff capacity and budget with being responsive to community needs,” Cuyugan said. “We always strive to create a welcoming environment for all who visit. Patron experience and safety are integral parts of our decision-making process and how we plan and roll-out our services. Throughout the last year, we have heard overwhelmingly positive feedback from our patrons about their experiences coming back to the library.”

By Thursday, the Santa Monica Library had begun to post job listings on its social media page.