Library Friends: They’ll Be There for You

By Steven Libowitz   |   May 3, 2022

It’s not hard to get a clear picture of the breadth of the age range served by the Montecito Library. Take a look at the events tab on the Friends of the Montecito Library website and you’ll find Italian Conversation, Knit ‘n’ Needle, Poetry Club, Spanish Conversation, Pre-School Story Time, and a New Yorker Discussion Group all within a span of a week or so. 

And new or expanded programs are always being added. The library’s new weekly “Stay and Play” event, which takes place before Storytime, encourages parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, and other caregivers to actually get down on the ground and play with their little ones, using a rotating selection of developmental toys provided by the library. Library staff also get involved in interacting with the kids, including incorporating books in a more informal way. Montecito Book Club meets regularly, while a Storywalk at nearby Lower Manning Park is also available. 

The programming is tailored to the community by Kim Crail, the Branch Lead of the Montecito Library, who also writes a monthly column on library activities and more for the Montecito Journal

So it’s easy to see how the library serves the community in very engaged ways well beyond the usual book lending, reference, and recommendation services. 

What is a bit more challenging to comprehend is the complicated budget structures of how that all happens. While normally, library friends groups exist to augment basic services supplementary to their operational needs, in unincorporated Montecito the situation is different, and involves ever-changing approaches and such areas and administrative recovery fees between governmental agencies, differing budgetary priorities, and even allocation of recent revenues from marijuana growers. 

Which is why the Friends have played such a big role in the library’s success for nearly half a century, as, in a rather unusual relationship, every year the organization gives the County of Santa Barbara a grant of $125,000 to ensure that the Montecito Library stays open a full five days per week. Over the years, the Friends have funded up to half of the Montecito Library’s normal operating budget as well as the programs for adults and kids. 

But not even Patricia Saley, the President of the Friends of the Montecito Library, wants to get into the nitty gritty of the funneling of funds and dollar distribution lest she lose her listener. 

“When you try to explain [the details] to people, their eyes glaze over or roll back in their head,” Saley said with a small laugh. “But it is important to understand in a general sense that this library is only open because of our generous community, because the government funding is not nearly sufficient. The people who donate to the Friends are a very important component.”

Cartoon by Chris O’Brion

Saley said that even in our Internet, smartphone, and tablet era, libraries are still a vital resource for the community, including those who might be isolated or lack the resources to have high-speed connections or a massive home collection of books. 

“It’s all about helping people learn and enrich their lives, get lost in books, and use their imaginations. The same way that open space and parks are important for people’s psyche, libraries matter because the Internet can’t meet that need.”

Keeping the library open for a full five days matters even more as we emerge from the pandemic, Saley said, because varying hours make it hard for people to make going to the library part of their regular schedule. 

“We used to be open six days a week, and now it’s down to five,” she said. “At some point you get diminishing returns. If you keep closing for a day, after a while people forget about the library altogether. The library is such a valuable resource and we’re just trying to keep it financially viable.”

Fortunately, through the Friends and its generous donors, the Montecito Library is currently financially solvent. But Saley and the organization know the model of such a high reliance on private support isn’t sustainable in the long term. Which is why a current mission of the nonprofit is to create an endowment for the library so that operations aren’t at the mercy of the vagaries of ever-shifting budgets and donations. 

“Right now it’s all year-by-year,” Saley said. “We’re hoping that the people who donate to the Friends will be generous enough that we all know that our children and grandchildren will know there will be a Montecito Library for them forever.”  

Friends of the Montecito Library 
1469 East Valley Road
Pat Saley, President
(805) 570-8483


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