Incoming Santa Monica City Librarian Maria Taesil Hudson Carpenter on the role of libraries in the 21st century

This week Santa Monica’s five-branch, 200-employee library system welcomed a new leader.
Maria Taesil Hudson Carpenter arrives after running the three-branch Somerville public library system near Boston and takes over for Greg Mullen, who retired after eight years at the helm.
Carpenter, of Korean heritage, grew up in Connecticut in a multiracial family of Nicaraguan brothers, a Swedish sister and parents of Dutch and German heritage. As a librarian at Northeastern University, Carpenter hosted a public access show that spotlighted local literary subjects, and in Somerville she reconfigured facilities to increase public engagement.
Santa Monica’s library system — which expanded in April with the opening of its 8,690 square-foot Pico branch, the city’s first new branch in more than half a century — operates on an annual budget of about $12 million, creating plenty of opportunities to grow at a time when book stacks are giving way to computer terminals, Carpenter said.
“We think she will take our five-star library system to new heights,” said Santa Monica City Manager Rod Gould. “Her enthusiasm is infectious, and her expertise and passion for library service is highly evident to all who speak with her.”
— Michael Aushenker

Maria Taesil Hudson Carpenter

Maria Taesil Hudson Carpenter

What’s your first priority in the new job?
Getting to know the community. I’m going to have to do a lot of listening, a lot of networking and work with my staff on the directions my libraries are going in and what services we’re providing.

What do you see as challenges and opportunities within the Santa Monica Public Library system?
Santa Monica has well-loved and heavily used libraries, beautiful facilities and superb staff. The challenge will be identifying and planning for the next generation of library services. Planning strategically and listening to community members, we will figure out the major concerns and focus on specific priorities. Examples might include early literacy for lifelong success at a young age or resources for entrepreneurs or recent immigrants. We will adapt and change in time, but we have to have a road map.

How do you think libraries should evolve in the digital age?
It depends on the community and what they are ready for, but I certainly think technologies and use of space can be updated, and we will be looking at new collaborators and partnerships. The physical space is so important. The key is to be responsive to the needs of the community and to anticipate future needs. Libraries are changing and there are a lot of burgeoning digital media facilities, maker spaces, animation studios and performance and experimental labs. We should explore doing all of that.
In terms of Somerville’s physical and programming needs, teens did not have a place of their own or a mixed-use space. There was only a common space that teens did not use because it was a quiet space. With various partners, we needed to create a new teen space and we did it. Now 50-plus students come into that space every day.
I firmly believe that libraries are places for the community. Whether that’s online, on your mobile device or in the physical space, the library is a third place for all residents to enrich their lives, expand their knowledge base and pursue lifelong dreams. It’s critical for librarians at all levels to ask themselves: What are the pedagogical approaches we can take to enhance the experience? What do people need? What are the key critical issues or problems that a community, such as Santa Monica, is trying to solve?

What authors have really resonated with you?
Ernest Hemingway wrote about terrible events such as war in such a beautiful profound way. Isabel Wilkerson wrote a book [2010’s “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration”] following three different people [an African-American doctor, agricultural worker and sharecropper’s wife] who made the migration north. It’s quite a beautiful, powerful read.

Had you visited Santa Monica before taking the job?
Six years ago I came to Santa Monica for a conference and stayed at the Double Tree. I got to experience yoga class, the farmers market, and at the time I said to myself, ‘You know, I can imagine living here.’ I’m a foodie, yogi and jogger, and I look forward to making new friends.