Genealogy Reference Specialist B.J. Jamison, left, helps Cliff Young with a question Wednesday at the Maine State Library’s temporary location at 242 State St. in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — A condensed edition of the Maine State Library reopened this past week, in temporary quarters on State Street.

The library’s much smaller spot at 242 State St. is in a state building that over the years has been home to offices of the state Department of Health and Human Services, Public Utilities Commission, and Department of Motor Vehicles. The new location is expected to be its home for about two years, while work continues to remove asbestos and perform mechanical upgrades at its longtime regular home at the state Cultural Building, which is undergoing about $15 million in renovations.

With only about 5,500 square feet of space for the public, versus the permanent library’s 22,000 square feet of availability, space is tight, and the collection of books and other materials is limited to about 25% of what was once on hand. But nearly the full complement of materials is in storage fairly nearby in a Winthrop warehouse, and can be made available to borrowers within one to three days or so, if requested.

Alison Maxell, director of public and outreach services, research and innovation, leads a tour Wednesday at the Maine State Library’s temporary location at 242 State St. in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“Essentially all our services we had in the other space, we’re doing here, albeit in a limited footprint,” said Alison Maxell, director of public and outreach services, research and innovation. “A very limited part of our collection is here onsite. But anybody can come in and, if they want something from the collection (that is not at the site), they can request it. We’re telling people it may take one to three days, but we strive for 24 hours. We go out there every day.”

With less space for computers, the library now requires people wishing to use its computers or microfilm research services to make a reservation and, if someone else is waiting to use a device, limit their time to hour-long sessions. Maxell said requiring reservations to use the fewer number of computers is an effort to still offer them to the public, in the most equitable way.

The library’s usual building had a dozen computers for general public use, while the temporary home only has four.

The library had a “soft opening” Monday and this past week only had a few library users there. The facility has a News Nook where every print newspaper published in the state is available, a coffee machine, and desks and nooks where readers can sit and read.

The News Nook section for magazines and Maine newspapers at the Maine State Library’s temporary location at 242 State St. in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“It’s different but certainly we’ve made it as cozy as possible,” said Jamie Ritter, state librarian, noting employees are happy to have reopened to the public after closing in May 2020. “We want happy customers.”

The public entrances to the building are all on the first floor, with the second floor reserved for office space. The library will be open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and is reachable by phone at 207-287-5600.

Maxell said while people can just stop in for services not requiring a computer, it is helpful to call first if you’re planning to come to the library, including to find out in advance if a book or other material is actually at the library, or would need to be retrieved from storage.

For collections storage the state’s Bureau of General Services has leased 13,000 square feet of warehouse space at 1705 Route 202 in Winthrop, the former Carleton Woolen Mill. That space is not open to the public. Maxell said that facility has shelving that is estimated, if it were run end to end, to be some 7 miles long.

Items on hand at the new State Street spot include books from the library’s most popular collections, with an emphasis on Maine themes and authors, and genealogy and other research materials.

Three separate meeting spaces, which are equipped to allow for online conferencing, will provide space for the return of programming at the library.

The exterior of the Maine State Library’s temporary location at 242 State St. in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Members of the public who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 are not required to wear masks to enter the library.

Moving out of the library’s permanent home was a monumental task that required choreography, and Ritter complemented Adam Fisher, collections and digital initiatives director, for coordinating the action. The state hired Vallee Movers to transfer the collection. Ritter said the move cost $223,000.

Library officials plan to host a public reopening celebration sometime in mid-August, once they are established and have the kinks worked out at the new repurposed facility.

“We’re excited to be back and looking forward to our new normal,” Ritter said.

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