AUGUSTA — Use of Lithgow Public Library is up by just about every measure in the year since the library reopened after a massive expansion and renovation project.

But it’s not just the quantity of visits that have increased, Library Director Elizabeth Pohl has noticed, but also the quality.

Instead of checking out a book or DVD or other piece of library material and immediately leaving, people are staying longer, lingering to read, take part in expanded library programs, study, use computers, and, in the library’s new meeting rooms, gather with others to talk about their studies and stories.

“Before, it wasn’t a place where people came and stayed, they’d get their things and leave,” Pohl said. “Now, we’re seeing more traditional library use, people spending more time here. We’ll have students here all day studying, families come in and do several things, and people are really enjoying the children’s room. Unequivocally, the public has been excited about the building and loving using it. It’s beautiful and functional and a huge improvement over what we had.”

Lithgow reopened about one year ago, following an $11 million renovation and expansion which more than doubled the size of the library.

Usage figures are up across the board compared to the library’s previous year, and also up compared to historical averages, though less so.

Last year Lithgow had 112,000 visitors, a 44 percent increase over the approximately 78,000 who came in the year prior, when the library was located in temporary quarters at the Ballard Center .

Pohl said a more typical yearly number of visitors to the library is around 100,000.

A total of 175,000 items were borrowed from the library over the last year, an 18 percent increase over the year prior.

beforeafter
Lithgow’s circulation desk, seen here in April 2015, and the post-renovation fireside lounge, seen in August 2016.Staff photos by Joe Phelan

Attendance at children’s programs was up 52 percent, to 6,739 attendees, and sessions on the library’s public computers reached 16,604, a 64 percent increase. Pohl said that is due in large part to there being many more computers available to use at the library. The previous building, she said, didn’t have room for very many computers, forcing users to wait to use the few they had.

The library was a busy place on a recent Friday, with moms and youngsters there for “Incredible Infants” programming, and others just there to use computers and check out materials.

Melissa Jordan, of Augusta, comes to the library at least once a week, usually with her sons Wesley, 10, and Elliot, 12. Earlier this month, she was there with Wesley, who played Minecraft on one of the computers in the brightly-lit, colorful and expansive children’s room, a markedly different and brighter place than the previous cramped children’s room which was in the basement.

“This space is so much better than before, it’s awesome,” Jordan said. “I think this was the best investment taxpayers could have gotten for their money. We love the library. We actually get upset if we can’t come to the library.”

Debbie Dube, of Monmouth, regularly comes to the library with her grandson, 19-month-old Weston Dube. She said he especially enjoys the “Wiggle Worm” classes, when youngsters dance and, well, wiggle, in the children’s area, with their parents, guardians, and peers.

“He loves that,” Dube said of Weston, showing some video, on her cellphone, of his wiggly dance moves. “We love coming here. They treat Weston very well and he gets to interact with other kids.”

The children’s room’s walls are circled by multiple long paper chains, with each link representing one hour of reading by a child in the summer reading program. The links of the paper chain, together, show kids in the program read for at least 2,736 hours so far this summer.

ROOM FOR ‘TWEENS’

While the comparatively expansive library has a much larger, and nicer children’s area than it had before, the library’s new teen area is something the old library didn’t even have at all.

Pohl said Julie Olson, a part-time librarian who specializes in adolescents, has worked hard and paid attention to what teenagers said they want, to create programming and a safe space for teens at the library.

Another staff member, library aid Kathleen Petersen, started a group for tweens — generally defined as children ages 10-13 — which regularly draws 20 to 25 kids for programs there, in space the library didn’t have before.

“We couldn’t have had a group of rambunctious tweens in here in the old building,” Pohl said.

Other events and activities in the library which likely couldn’t have taken place before, Pohl said, include a blood drive, a candidates forum, speaking engagements, a book sale and meetings of community groups.

WORKING OUT QUIRKS

Any large new building with new technology, however, is likely to have some quirks at first.

At Lithgow, those have previously included computer-controlled door locks which at first didn’t always lock or open when they were supposed to, and a heating, ventilation and air conditioning system that sometimes trips a circuit and shuts down temporarily.

The heating and air conditioning system quirks are still being worked out, but Pohl said previous problems with the door locks and security system have been addressed.

In February, the renovated library was damaged by snow that had accumulated and slid off the roof all at once, taking out the parapets of the roof’s gable ends in one spot.

Repairs were completed in July and the approximately $26,000 cost of them was covered by warranty.

The city plans to install snow guards on the roof, which are little ridges that hold the snow back more so it is less likely to all slide off the roof at the same time. Pohl said they had considered installing the devices originally but decided not to. She said in retrospect they’ll be a good addition to the building, the original part of which was built in 1896.

The project came in at roughly $100,000 under budget.

City voters in June of 2015 approved bonding $8 million to renovate and expand the public library. That money was supplemented by about $2.7 million raised privately by Friends of Lithgow Library.

The project included the restoration of the library’s 120-year-old stained glass windows, which were reinstalled earlier this year. The $116,000 window restoration was covered by privately raised funds.

The private funds will also cover the planned restoration of plaster ornamentation and paint in the library’s ornate Reading Room. Pohl said money raised by the Friends of Lithgow will cover the approximately $68,500 cost of restoring the room’s plaster and paint. She said an analysis of the paint in the room now showed the current colors don’t quite match the original colors of the room.

Pohl said the building expansion was built to be flexible, so the space it contains can be altered, in the future, to accommodate uses and needs unforeseen now. She said she hopes the library will serve the community for 100 more years.

“We’re just beginning,” Pohl said. “It’s just our first year and we’ve already been able to do so much more.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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