AUGUSTA — When Dorothy Merrick was 4, her brother was under strict instructions from their mother to carry his younger sister across the street when they went to the Lithgow Public Library. “It was 1929, so there weren’t any cars,” Merrick said. “I guess she didn’t want me to get run over.” Her brother was old enough to check out books, she said, but she was old enough only to go the library’s story time.

On Saturday, Merrick and Helen Oliver were the first members of the public to pass through the doors of Augusta’s historic public library, which celebrated its $11 million expansion with a ribbon cutting and rededication ceremony.

Merrick and Oliver, both 93, generally are able to have books delivered to them at the Inn at City Hall, where they live. It’s a service that helps them feel connected to the library community, Oliver said. Even so, they joined nearly 300 people who turned out to see how the long-anticipated expansion turned out.

They were pleased. Many people greeted their friends and fellow library patrons as if they had been separated for years, and the joyous din in the library competed with and sometimes drowned out the live harp music as library supporters and residents toured the seamlessly joined spaces.

“It’s hard to put into words how wonderful this is,” Andrew Silsby, chairman of the library’s board of trustees, said at the close of the brief program.

For a decade, Silsby has been working to bring the expansion project to fruition along with members of his board, city officials and the Friends of the Lithgow Library, which launched a fundraising campaign to secure funds and pledges to meet the $11 million budget.

“The library has grown substantially in circulation,” he said. It had 6,500 books when it first opened; now it has 67,000 books and periodicals.

This stacks room as it appeared Tuesday, after renovation, at Lithgow Public Library in Augusta. The rest of the stained glass windows will be reinstalled after they're done being repaired, but the painting over fireplace is not returning.

This stacks room as it appeared Tuesday, after renovation, at Lithgow Public Library in Augusta. The rest of the stained glass windows will be reinstalled after they’re done being repaired, but the painting over fireplace is not returning. Staff file photo by Joe Phelan

“We were just bursting at the seams. The elevator didn’t work and we couldn’t get it working. There were leaks in the roof where the buildings met,” he said, referring to the 1979 expansion that was torn down to make way for the new addition.

The Lithgow Public Library is now three times the size of the original library dedicated in 1896, and twice the size the library was after the 1979 expansion.

The new section echoes the original design and use of materials. With the additional space, the children’s room has been moved from the basement to a space on the ground floor blessed with natural light, and a dedicated space for young adults has been carved out one flight up.

The stacks, which had been too narrow to allow a person in a wheelchair access to them, have been changed. The new library is fully handicapped-accessible – something Merrick and Oliver appreciate, as they both use wheelchairs – and it has a fully working elevator.

“The modern library is a vibrant community resource center,” Silsby said.

Pohl said she’s excited to see her staff ready the library for its Monday opening. The library has space to grow into, she said, but it hasn’t been overdesigned. Because it’s not an academic library, she said, the collection can remain dynamic, with some books being phased out as others are acquired. She said she doesn’t anticipate that the current print collection will grow much.

“I think we’ll be able to adapt to future development. It will be easy to renovate and reuse this space,” Pohl said.

From left, Dorothy Merrick, Kate Sanborn, Helen Oliver, Wendy Wingate and Sue Clain look around Saturday in the renovated 1896 section of Lithgow Public Library in Augusta. Oliver and Merrick, who both live in The Inn At City Hall, are longtime library patrons and were the first inside for a tour after the ribbon-cutting reopening the library.

From left, Dorothy Merrick, Kate Sanborn, Helen Oliver, Wendy Wingate and Sue Clain look around Saturday in the renovated 1896 section of Lithgow Public Library in Augusta. Oliver and Merrick, who both live in The Inn At City Hall, are longtime library patrons and were the first inside for a tour after the ribbon-cutting reopening the library. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

During construction, the library’s staff and contents spent about 14 months in temporary quarters at the Ballard Center on East Chestnut Street before starting the move back to the library building earlier this summer. At the East Chestnut Street location, Pohl said, staff members were able to perform core services, but now that they have settled into the new library space, they will be able to resume full service to the public.

“It’s been so moving to watch their reactions,” Pohl said. “It’s not a cookie-cutter commercial building. It has a heart and a soul.”