AUGUSTA — Lithgow Public Library will move to its first new, if temporary, location in 120 years next month, at the Ballard Center.

Making such a move could be a heavy burden to bear, especially since — as you may recall from your last move — books are really heavy. In some cases, fragile. And, in the case of a library, need to be packed and unpacked in a way they’ll all end up in the same order when the temporary library space opens to the public, roughly a month after Lithgow closes for the move.

Elizabeth Pohl, library director, joked they might greet moving crews and library patrons at the Ballard Center with a medical quip, given that the location was once home to the city’s hospital.

“Come on in, this won’t hurt a bit,” Pohl said, standing just inside what was once the laboratory at the former hospital, where workers last week were putting up drywall and working up in the ceiling to convert the space into the library’s temporary home for about a year and a half while the historic Lithgow Public Library building is extensively renovated and expanded to nearly triple its current size.

The city’s public library’s last day open will be April 11. The move starts April 13 and Pohl anticipates they’ll be open in the temporary location at 6 East Chestnut St. by mid-May.

Her advice to library users anxious about not having access to the library for up to a month: Stock up.

“The more people take out, the less we have to move,” Pohl said.

Wynter Giddings, systems librarian, said due dates for books and other materials taken out before the move that might normally be due back before the move is complete will be extended until after the move is done.

Book drop-off boxes will be available so people still can return borrowed materials during the weeks when the library is closed.

People who rely on Lithgow’s public computers to get online can turn to alternatives including the Maine State Library, the Katz Library at the University of Maine at Augusta or, if they’re looking for a job, computers at the Maine Career Center.

“It’s an inconvenience, obviously, for the library to be closed,” Pohl said. “Just be patient with us. The public will be pleased when we reopen. If people keep their eye on the prize, they’ll see we’ll have a good temporary home here and a beautiful permanent home” when the renovation and expansion of the library itself is done.

Libraries don’t move every day. Pohl noted none of the library’s 16 staff members have been through such a move.

But she said their movers have. Portland-based Earle W. Noyes and Sons was picked from among several firms that submitted proposals to move Lithgow both from its current building to the Ballard Center, and back to the library building when work there is done. She said the company is the largest moving and storage company in Maine and has extensive experience moving libraries and the like, including moves for the Portland Public Library and the Maine Historical Society.

Noyes was also, Pohl said, the only Maine company to submit a proposal to do the job.

“It’s such a complicated endeavor to move a library we wanted someone who has done them before,” Pohl said. “When you’re moving stacks (of books), you need to make sure the collections get from point A to point B, and in the right order, so people will be able to find stuff.”

The company, Giddings said, will use large carts onto which books will be stacked, in order. The entire carts will be shrink-wrapped and moved to the new location, where the books will be placed back on stacks there, hopefully still in the same order.

The move to temporary space and back, Pohl said, is expected to cost about $62,000.

Some shelving for stacks of books is already at the Ballard Center — stored for now in the former hospital’s old morgue. Pohl said the Maine State Library replaced some of its stacks, so it gave the old ones to Lithgow for use in the temporary quarters. Other stacks will be brought over from the old library — specifically, from the 1979 addition.

Pohl and Giddings said the stacks in the original part of the Lithgow building, many of which are 120 years old themselves, can’t be moved. They said the ends of those old stacks, which have plaques on them bearing the names of people who donated to help build the library, will be salvaged and put up on a wall at the renovated and expanded library.

The temporary library will be just inside the Ballard Center entrance lobby, to the right. The main parking lot for library users will be across Arsenal Street from the building. Library users may walk up the hill to the main entrance, or enter on the lower level directly across from the parking lot into common space of the building, then take the elevator up to the lobby to get to the library, according to Ali Clair, director of communications for GMK Construction & Property Maintenance Services Inc., the firm overseeing the building for owner Dirigo Capital Advisors.

Just inside the entrance will be the library’s lone circulation desk, which is a change from the current system of having multiple checkout desks. Pohl said the renovated Lithgow will operate under a similar single-circulation desk system when it reopens.

A smallish children’s area is in one corner, an area for teens in another, and public computers and a reference desk will be roughly in the middle of the room.

On Friday, Clair showed Pohl some color sample swatches, including a bright yellow she said should help lighten up the children’s area.

A second, much smaller room down the hall in the Ballard Center will provide additional space for readings and other events for children. The library also will have the use of office space and a small break room, both located down the hall from the main public library space.

Clair said progress on the main library space is happening quickly, and it will be ready for the April 13 move-in start. Pohl said the actual move is expected to take nine days, and the movers will do most of the packing and unpacking. Then library staff will need time to get settled and get the new library up and running. Giddings said it will open by mid-May at the latest, and possibly earlier.

Yet to be decided is whether the portrait of library namesake, Llewellyn Lithgow, which now hangs behind the circulation desk at the library, will make the move to the temporary quarters and, if so, where it will be hung.

Pohl joked the last time they took his portrait down, weird things happened, so the portrait probably will be moved to the temporary library and put on display there until it is moved back to the renovated and expanded library when the work is done.

The city is leasing about 20,000 square feet of space in the Ballard Center, at a rate of $10.50 per square foot. The total cost, City Manager William Bridgeo said previously, is expected to be $315,000 if the library project takes 18 months as projected.

Work on the approximately $11 million Lithgow renovation and expansion is expected to start May 4. Winthrop-based J.F. Scott Construction is handling the renovation and expansion. The project includes demolishing the addition built in 1979 and extensively renovating the older, historic part of the building. Pohl said granite veneer from the 1979 addition will be reused for things such as walkways and steps.

Such a large move, Pohl acknowledged, comes with its share of worries. But she’s confident things will go well.

“I was (worried), until we hired the movers and we got a time frame,” she said. “I think we’ve prepared well. It’s exciting. The library has operated at that site for 120 years. Nothing like this has ever happened before.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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