Summer days are synonymous with indulging in a summer read while taking in some sun at the beach. A pop-up beach library seems natural in our City of sandy coastline and balmy weather. But, what seems obvious is actually the brainchild of Reference Librarian, Jeff Kaplan.
When the Library staff was looking for ways to connect with the community, Jeff took inspiration from his own love of the beach. “If your dream job doesn’t exist, invent it,” Jeff said. “At the Main Library we are six blocks from the beach and have perfect weather. I had a vision of an immersive desert castaway island feeling. More than a canopy, a sense that you are at a real library at the beach somewhere. We hopped on bikes and looked up and down the path. “
These bike rides grew into SMPL @ the Beach, Southern California’s only seaside pop-up library, now in its fifth year. This year during its three popups SMPL @ the Beach allowed visitors to check out books, get recommendations for summer reads, attend Seaside Story Time and Drag Queen Story Time, try a hand at nautical crafts, and participate in a ukulele jam, Brazilian dance lessons, and a marine life show and tell with the Santa Monica Aquarium.
Out of the box ideas like these are reflective of what happens when a Library system is empowered by librarians who come with a diversity of backgrounds, experiences, and vision. Jeff followed up a degree in Neuropsychology with work in education, corporate America, non-profits, and in the entertainment industry. Looking for a fulfilling career he queried friends who worked at law firms and libraries. He heard “don’t go to law school.” “My friends who are librarians all said, “I love my job.” “One of the best schools in library science is UCLA, so I got my Master of Library and Information Science. After UCLA, I got an internship at Santa Monica Public library as a Reference Librarian and 11 years later, I am still here.”
Jeff is the LGBTQ liaison focusing on outreach to the local LGBTQ community and in-reach to Library staff. He coordinates the LGBTQ programming and works with community partners to curate the Library’s involvement in events such as the first SaMo Pride Festival, a month of activities to raise awareness and celebrate LGBTQ community. Drag Queen Story Time at SMPL @ the Beach provided an opportunity to challenge restrictive gender stereotypes, encourage self-expression, and promote diversity and inclusion.
For some librarians, public libraries played such a key role in their childhood that becoming a librarian was a natural stepping-stone in their evolving relationship with this institution. From youth patron to librarian their relationship shifted from one of recipient to provider. It is evidence of the heartfelt connection people feel for their public library and their commitment to ensuring they continue on as the ultimate democratic space.
“I spent a lot of time in libraries growing up. My parents both worked full-time, and we were close to the library. I always liked looking up things. I was interested in using the library catalog. During the summer, I went to camp in Orange County. My parents dropped me off at Fullerton College and I hung out for the hour before camp in the library. I learned the Library of Congress system. As an undergraduate at UC Berkeley I worked the stacks. After graduation, I worked with a company that made library automation software. Some of my co-workers at this tech company were librarians. I admired them. I went on to get my Master of Library and Information Science at UCLA.”
Kane has been working in the Information Management Division (IMD), tech services at the Santa Monica Public Library for 16 years. Spending most of his time working behind the scenes, he wanted to do a public facing program that was unique and fun. He leapt at the opportunity to work with Jeff Kaplan on the SMPL @ the Beach events.
Reflecting on the growth and impact this program Kane says, “every year, storytime has gained traction and families are showing up specifically for that. It has a preschool families following. Each year the staff learns something and is able to enhance the experience.” This connection between the library and the community in a public space is an example of how the Santa Monica Public Library maintains its relevance in the digital age.
The influence of this program reaches beyond Santa Monica. Jeff and Kane have taught a sold out four-week class online for librarians on pop up libraries. Sharing their experience with this program launched on Santa Monica’s beaches they are influencing libraries across the globe.