Earlier this week, Santa Fean Kyle Taylor returned to the main branch of the Santa Fe Public Library for the first time since the pandemic forced its doors closed last year. Perusing the aisles for Japanese cookbooks, Taylor tells SFR it was difficult for him to get by without physical access to the library.

“I missed being able to look through what’s here versus online search results,” Taylor says, adding that he hopes to find something unexpected.

All three branches of the Santa Fe Public Library closed in March 2020 during the early days of COVID-19. Two months later, a curbside pick-up program began, but knowing what book you want and serendipitously stumbling upon some unknown treasure are two very different experiences. Cut to this week, and both the downtown main and Southside branches have at long last reopened to the public with the La Farge branch in Midtown continuing curbside service for the time being.

Officials say they’re thrilled to welcome Santa Fe back.

“We missed our patrons very much,” says Ann Bentley, acting branch manager at the Southside branch. “The mood is very positive and the patrons are happy to be back in the building.”

Santa Fean Kyle Taylor looks for a Japanese cookbook.
Santa Fean Kyle Taylor looks for a Japanese cookbook. | David Campbell Lozuaway-McComsey

Downtown, the feeling is mutual.

“The word is getting out there and we are seeing all of our familiar faces coming back to the building,” says Branch Manager Adam Reilly. “Plus, we’ve seen a huge surge in new library card sign-ups—we’ve been making cards left and right.”

Reilly says services that began during the pandemic, such as the Tech Connect program that allowed Santa Feans to borrow laptops, have been popular, as have older programs such as DVD rentals. The library also expanded its offerings with online streaming service Kanopy, which provides a number of free titles monthly to anyone with a library card, and, Bentley says, started a book club for incarcerated New Mexicans at the State Penitentiary.

“We had five librarians and staff meet with six or seven prisoners and we met four times to discuss Into the Beautiful North [by Luis Alberto Urrea],” she explains. “Our current book is Fahrenheit 451.”

Main Library Branch Manager Adam Reilly.
Main Library Branch Manager Adam Reilly.

The reopening is also especially noteworthy as libraries are one of the last places people can go without being expected to spend money; for unhoused residents during a pandemic, that need is highlighted all the more.

“It’s tough out there,” says Reilly of the main branch. “There’s no place for our displaced and mentally ill, but anybody is welcome in these doors if they behave. I’m very proud to serve in that capacity.”

The main and Southside branches will operate Tuesday-Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm and masks are mandated indoors. Those things could change, however, in the coming weeks. Still, as folks try to get back to some form of their old lives once more, it’s nice to see even incremental positives.

“The place has come alive again,” Reilly adds. “It’s what it’s meant to be—the public and the community here sharing the space.”