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Santa Monica's Community of Readers  


By Ann K. Williams
Staff Writer

July 30, 2012 – The only thing better than curling up with good book is knowing you're not alone, and thanks to the Santa Monica Public Library, you're not.

Last year the library offered more than 120 programs to draw the city's readers together, and there are more in the works.

“We're constantly adapting, finding ways to connect to the community,” Youth Services Librarian  Shana Johnson told the LookOut Thursday.   “We are trying to be accessible to all,” added Public Services Librarian Robert Graves.

In that spirit, the library launched a new facebook book discussion Monday of the novel “Olive Kitteridge.” 

Olive Kitteridge is a novel told in short stories, said Graves.  “She's a crotchety old broad.  A lot of people don't like that.  She's opinionated and she's not afraid to tell you what she thinks.  I love her.  She reminds me of my grandmother.”

Graves got the idea for a facebook discussion at a publishers' convention and thought it would be ideal for busy Santa Monicans.

“A lot of parents don't have time to make it to our book discussions,” said Graves. “They have to cook dinner, get the kids to soccer.”

So with the facebook book discussion, they can go online are for an hour no matter where they are or what they're doing. 

The conversation takes places in the comments section of the library's facebook page, Graves said. Directions for logging on are at

He said he'd kick off the discussion with a topic and interject from time to time to keep things moving and on track. When participants want to “speak up” they can type in a comment.   To “listen,” just refresh the page from time to time so other peoples' comments show up. 

“I'll be on for an hour but I guess the conversation could go on forever,” Graves said.

Ground rules include things like you have to stay on topic, it's not a forum to gripe about overdue fees, and be respectful of other people's opinions.

“You don't have to like the book....It would be boring if everybody liked it,” said Graves.

Teens get their own facebook discussion, added Johnson.

All the kids at SAMOHI will be required to read and discuss The Glass Castle, a memoir about growing up in a dysfunctional poverty-stricken family.  Then they can talk about it online on the library's facebook page. 

“Parents are welcome to chime in,” said Johnson.  The program will be online a week after school starts.

The facebook discussions are an extension of programs like Citywide Reads, now in its tenth year, and  Public Services Librarian Ivy Weston hopes to augment the local get-togethers with a grant from California Reads. 

“Searching for Democracy” is this year's statewide theme, said Weston.  She envisions Santa Monica's program built around “A Paradise Built in Hell,” a book about disaster response.  

“Disaster response is like democracy in action,” said Weston.  She'd like to include a disaster preparedness fair and a screening of “The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom.”

The library is reaching out beyond its doors in other ways. 

If you're unable to get to your local branch, the library will come to you via Shut-In Services. 

A team of volunteers fetches books, CD's, DVD's and more to people who can't leave their homes.  Plans are in the works to team up with Meals-On-Wheels. 

Not only do the clients of this program get entertainment that boosts the quality of their lives, friendships blossom between the volunteers and those they serve.

“They cherish the visits,” said Public Services Librarian Judith Graham.  The volunteers become “part of the family.”

What if the library's closed?  The library's link to Brainfuse gives students a helping hand when they're staying up late trying to finish their homework. 

It's an online program that provides tutoring for third to twelfth graders seven days a week from 1 to 10p.m.  Students can write out their problems on the web page and get answers in a live chat.

And the library's about to offer a mobile catalogue, an app where you can place a hold or renew an item on your smart phone or pad.

But with all the ways you can use the library without going into the actual building, people still show up.

“People are always going to come here...Some people love the feel of a physical book,”  Johnson said.

And it's not just the books they come for.

“We're adapting over to a community center,” said Graves.

He said they've had to take out shelves to make room for more seating. 

People use the library as “a mobile office,” Graves said.  “They come here, have a cup of coffee, get a little work done, check out a book.”

Parents can bring their tots to story time and stay for some computer fun as the little ones play games designed to foster early literacy. 

Computers for older kids have educational games based on books like the Magic Schoolbus series and Curious George.

There's the ever-popular summer reading program.  Students are encouraged to “read whatever they want,”  said Johnson. 

“There's evidence that kids who don't read in the summer actually experience a loss in their reading ability,” she said.

So the library collaborates with the schools.  This year “we're up to over 3,000” participants, Johnson said, and the number goes up every year.

What are the kids' favorites?  “Anything paranormal, vampires, werewolves, magic,” said Johnson, and books that have inspired recent movies.  “'The Hunger Games' is big.” 

Teens get their own book discussions, designed for their interests.

The library held a program built around banned books, called Join the Banned, said Johnson.  Young adult authors – some of whose books had been banned – came out and read their work. 

“We had a reading theatre production of 'Harry Potter,' of the most banned books in the country,” Johnson said.  “We're trying to get the message across that reading can be fun.”

The library also hosts author talks and panel discussions on a host of topics, from selling your own book to cooking with farmers' market produce – and teens have their own, interactive programs to mirror those offered for adults.  

“Other than the Los Angeles main library, we've become the biggest author tour venue in Los Angeles,” said Graves, adding that the libraries have picked up the slack as book stores have closed down.

The library's recent workshop on ebook publishing was packed, he said, and a workshop called “Write to Sell is scheduled for August 9.

Teens have a workshop of their own in which they learn how the tools of the trade with one-on-one contact with local young adult authors, and their fiction is published in a teen-zine that's added to the library's permanent collection.  

These are only a few of the creative ways the Santa Monica Public Library brings the community together in its love of reading.

To find out more, go to

Frank Gruber for Santa Monica City Council


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