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Council Approves One-Time Funding to Enhance Library Services

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By Jorge Casuso

August 25, 2022 -- Santa Monica's public libraries will receive a one-time infusion of more than $500,000, marking a "milestone" in restoring services decimated by the coronavirus shutdown.

Approved unanimously by the City Council at a special meeting Wednesday, the $537,924 allocation will boost operating hours from 84 hours per week at four locations to 116 hours at all five libraries.

The funding -- which comes from from deferred one-time capital improvement projects -- will restore weekly Saturday service at the Pico and Montana branches and allow all the libraries to stay open until 7 p.m. starting this fall.

“The enhancement marks a milestone in library restoration," said Erica Cuyugan, the City's head librarian. "For the first time since April 2020, the library will be able to provide service at every neighborhood branch location."

The enhanced services -- which will be offered through a combination of self-service and in-person models -- come more than two years after the City Council slashed more than half of the Library's staff during the economic crisis triggered by the shutdown.

In May 2020, the library's 112 employees were reduced to 47, before reaching the current 61 full-time equivalent employees.

"As a result, many of the library’s branches have remained shuttered or function with minimal staffing, limited in-person service and programs, and reduced operating hours," staff wrote in a report to the Council.

The new one-time funding -- which covers only the current fiscal year that began July 1 -- will allow the libraries to offer "expanded access to library space, public internet and computer stations, services, resources, and knowledgeable staff," staff said.

It also will allow neighborhood and branch services to add programming for youth and families and increase staffing support, as well as coordinate Main Library services that include the Literacy Education for Adults and Families (LEAF) program.

"Most residents will be able to walk to their neighborhood branch to browse the adult and youth collections, pick-up holds, check out materials, interact with staff, and use a computer, meeting or study room," City officials said.

The one-time funding will allow the Library system to increase staff by 2 limited term full time employees and 5.3 full-time equivalent as-needed staff "to enable branch activation on Saturdays and evening hours."

"To balance staff resources," the Main Library will no longer be open on the first Saturday of the month "until additional resources are obtained that would adequately cover the operational needs of the 104,000 square-foot building on a weekend," staff said in their report.

The new funding, however, will allow the Main Library "to benefit from enhanced evening hours and be open an hour earlier than branch locations during the week, Monday through Thursday."

City officials must now identify a source of ongoing funding to maintain the enhanced services, staff said.

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