Mid century style library

Coastal Chronicles: The History of Santa Monica’s Libraries

National Library Week is upon us! And as always, we’re celebrating the ways libraries connect our community, cultivate the love of reading, encourage lifelong learning and provide cost-effective access to resources and technology. 

The 2024 theme, “Ready, Set, Library!” embraces the spirit of adventure that Santa Monica celebrates year-round and encourages everyone to participate in their community.

Santa Monica is proud to house five libraries within our destination, accessible to residents and visitors alike. Residents of California can apply for a free library card to borrow any of the libraries’ resources, including books, ebooks, magazines, and more, for use at home. Visitors are able to swing by the library to enjoy those resources on-site, gather information about the community from knowledgeable librarians or utilize technology resources, such as computers, printing and photocopying services and free wi-fi. Everyone is also invited to participate in the unique (usually free!) community programming. 

To learn more about each branch’s history and their unique offerings, read on:

1. Santa Monica Main Public Library

Featuring a long and storied history that dates back to 1884, just nine years after the city’s inception, the Santa Monica Main Public Library is the longest standing and largest of our city’s five library branches. 

This branch originally began as a small reading room attached to a local drug store, changed ownership to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in 1888, and became city property in 1890. In the decades following, the library underwent numerous moves and redesigns until settling into its current Downtown Santa Monica location in 2006.

In addition to its many aisles of books and media, this branch houses the Santa Monica History Museum, dedicated to preserving and promoting the rich history of our beach side city, and has welcomed over a million guests. 

Visitors to this branch can purchase books from the on-site bookstore, peruse the shelves of books, vinyls, CDs, DVDs, and magazines, utilize the computers and free Wi-Fi, explore the museum and for a small fee, print or photocopy documents. California residents who hold a valid library card can do all of the above plus check out resources for use at home.

2. Montana Avenue Branch

Located in the bustling Montana Avenue neighborhood, this library branch is situated amidst the community’s 150+ restaurants and retailers. Designed by Weldon Fulton and set in a Mid-Century Modern building, this branch blends in seamlessly with its trendy, hip, and effortlessly cool surroundings.

The library can be accessed via three different Big Blue Bus lines (18, 41, 42) and offers a wide array of programming open to all visitors and residents, including weekly story times, a Dungeons & Dragons club, recurring book club meetings and featured one-off events like bookmark coloring and tomato growing workshops open to all ages.

This branch has a large children’s section featuring dedicated computers, plenty of reading materials, and a reading nook for little ones.

3. Pico Branch

Built with sustainability in mind, the Pico Branch is situated within the 9.5-acre Virginia Avenue Park (home to one of four weekly farmers markets, splash pads and playgrounds). The park is also the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – LEED –  park recipient in the nation.

Set across two buildings, the main portion of the Pico branch consists of children’s, teen, and adult book collections, a children’s area, three group study rooms, cozy reading areas, public computers and customer support services. 

The building’s smaller counterpart, the “Annex” is a public community room used for story times, educational and cultural programming and can be rented for private use with a valid library card. The two structures are connected via a trellis-lined pedestrian breezeway and open to an exterior amphitheater with terraced steps.

Opened in 2014, the Pico Branch library is the newest branch in Santa Monica and was built utilizing drought-tolerant and native plants, weather-based irrigation controls, a rainwater collection and filtration system to keep the runoff from overburdening the stormwater system, solar panels and skylights for energy use reduction as well as six electric vehicle (EV) charging stations.

With 96% of all seating in the library offering views of the outdoors, the Pico branch is the best way to enjoy some sunshine while still being able to clearly see every page of your book.

4. Ocean Park Branch

Accessible to pre-approved California library card holders only.

Built in 1917 and declared a historic landmark by the City of Santa Monica Landmarks Commission in 1977, this branch houses over 100 years of history. Built on land donated to the city by one of the city’s preeminent commercial developers, Charles Tegner, the original structure featured Classical Revival architecture and has since been refurbished to include interior improvements and new signage. 

This branch is available only to California library card holders via an “Open+” system. This automated, computer-driven system permits library access to verified guests by having them swipe their library card at the door. Once inside the library, guests are invited to access library resources such as wi-fi or computers with their library card or check out materials with one of the self-serve checkout computers. For library card holders who are interested in using this branch, simply sign up for the program, wait for approval, and swing by.

5. Fairview Branch

Accessible to pre-approved California library card holders only.

The Fairview library branch, designed by architect Weldon Fulton and located on Main Street, originally opened in 1931 as a petite, 15-foot-wide building.

In 1942, the library moved to a slightly larger building down the street, and in 1956 moved locations entirely to its current spot on Ocean Boulevard. Then in the late 1950s, the building underwent renovations to add a community room and was updated with its now iconic Mid-Century Modern façade (if you’ve seen the city’s Camera Obscura building and noted similarities – good eye! Weldon Fulton designed both Santa Monica icons!). 

This branch is accessible only to pre-approved library card holders with the same “Open+” system employed by the Ocean Park Branch.


For more information on the city’s libraries, check out Santa Monica Public Library online. If you are a California resident, we encourage you to apply for your free library card to borrow library resources and access free audiobooks on-demand with library-sponsored apps

Happy Reading!
Or happy internet browsing, studying, audio listening, DVD watching, meeting hosting, online database using, community participating, or any other method of enjoying the library you may choose!


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