AUGUSTA — Use of Lithgow Public Library is up by just about every measure in the year since it 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 and 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, after an $11 million renovation and expansion that 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 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.

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. The previous building, she said, didn’t have room for 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 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 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 show kids in the program read for at least 2,736 hours so far this summer.

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 that 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.

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: kedwardskj