The entrance to Santa Barbara's Central Library is blocked off for Phase 1 of a large-scale construction project. | Credit: Ryan P. Cruz

For the past few weeks, local residents making the trip downtown to visit Santa Barbara’s Central Library were met with closed doors and a sign turning them away, informing them that the location was closed to the public, with the exception of a three-hour window to pick up books placed on hold.

The library made the announcement at the beginning of the month through its website, an email newsletter, and posts on social media, but many who use the library regularly were still shocked to learn that the main location would be unavailable this month.

“I’m upset,” said Dawn O’Brien, a local resident who drove over to the library on Monday afternoon to pick up a few books a friend had requested. She was one of a handful of locals turned away that day, including a 1st-grader who had walked downtown with her grandmother to explore the kids’ section. Instead, the family said they had to find another way to spend their summer afternoon. [Editor’s note: After this story was published, a library spokesperson reached out to the Independent to clarify that the library has not been open on Mondays due to pandemic budget cuts and ongoing costs that have reduced the library’s hourly budget, and that the Monday closures are not related to construction.]

The new pickup-only hours — restricted while the library undergoes an excavation in preparation of a new ADA-compliant elevator — are limited to Tuesday-Friday, 4-7 p.m. On Saturday, pickup hours are expanded from 10 a.m-5 p.m.

“I am just questioning the need for a makeover,” O’Brien said. “The library was so delightful.”

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The construction is the first phase of a $9.3 million, three-part project overhauling the lower-level staff area, adding a new ADA-compliant elevator, and eventually building the project’s centerpiece, the 10,000-square-foot outdoor Michael Towbes Plaza.

In the meantime, the Central Library’s lobby will only be open for pickups on materials put on hold and for visitors to the Faulkner Gallery on a first-come, first-serve basis. Restrooms will also remain open. Access to the main level, children’s library, upper level, computers, printers, and study spaces is cut off until excavation is completed — which library staff said may stretch beyond the month of August.

“Construction projects often experience delays or unexpected challenges,” reads the announcement on the library website, “so we will be diligent to communicate any updates on our website, in our email newsletter, and on social media.”

The decision was made to limit services during the excavation, the announcement said, “to protect staff and patrons from adverse effects of construction, especially high-noise levels that will limit the ability to communicate.”

The library has laptops and hotspots available for those who wish to check them out, and both the Eastside and Montecito library locations will still be open for regular hours.  The library has also relocated all of its regular programming like storytimes and STEAM activities to public parks with the Library on the Go van, where people can also check out books.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on August 17, 2022, to clarify that the library has been closed on Mondays prior to the start of construction and that all of the library’s regular programming has been relocated to public parks.

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