AUGUSTA — In her 28 years as executive director of Lithgow Public Library, Elizabeth Pohl would not be shushed when it came to advocating for a high-quality library that could meet the diverse needs of all members of the community.

Pohl retired Friday, and the most visible sign of her unceasing drive is the renovated and expanded library building, which reopened two years ago after an 18-month construction that nearly tripled the size of the library while restoring much of the original building erected in 1896.

Before the $11 million project was approved by voters in 2014, the need to expand and renovate the library was discussed for many years, and even went to a vote in 2007, but voters turned down the proposal. Undaunted, Pohl continued to advocate for a library worthy of the capital city, citing the need to build a facility with adequate space, accessibility for people with disabilities, and room to dramatically expand programming for children in a safe, well-lit space.

But advocates for expanding the library were told to wait their turn as other civic building projects came to fruition in Augusta, including a new Cony High School and new YMCA in 2006, and a new MaineGeneral Medical Center in 2013.

Pohl and other library supporters kept pushing, with the Friends of Lithgow Library contributing $3 million in privately raised funds. The library renovation proposal went back to city voters in 2014 and they overwhelming approved the city borrowing $8 million for the project, with 82 percent voting in favor.

“You didn’t necessarily play nice with the boys, and I mean that in the highest regards of compliments,” Mayor David Rollins told Pohl this week when city councilors recognized her achievements. “The road ahead of you was steep. You weren’t always encouraged. You were told to wait your turn. But you wouldn’t take no for an answer. Whenever I drive by that library, I’ll remember your fierceness in accomplishing that.”

City Manager William Bridgeo said he quickly realized when he came on the job that Pohl would be a force to be reckoned with; the pair ended up working together for 20 years.

“She’s been, to me, both an inspiration and a giant pain in the butt,” Bridgeo said of Pohl. “From our first professional interactions together, it was clear the library director for the city of Augusta, this community I had just come to, was dynamic, passionate, committed, professional and determined we were going to have the best library, best library services and best staff that you could ask for anywhere in America. And boy did she deliver on that over her almost 28 years here in the city.”

Pohl is quick to credit others, saying she’s proud of the community for coming together to renovate and expand the library.

Once simply a place to go to borrow books, libraries have integrated technology and, in Maine, were among the first places people could use computers to connect to the internet.

Local residents now come to the library to access the internet, seek jobs and work on resumes and do research both online and in books. They also attend workshops and presentations on everything from yoga to fermenting food, and bring their children in for frequent programming for children of all ages.

“People used to come to libraries to check out materials, and that’s still true – our circulation is up,” Pohl said. “But they are also checking out experiences. We’re helping people explore new skills, new experiences. More and more, we’re helping people enhance their lives, one way or another.”

Pohl, 60, said she’s not retiring from work permanently. She plans to take a “sabbatical” for a few months until the end of the year, to spend time with family and friends, exercise and do a fair amount of reading, things she hasn’t had much time for as the library’s executive director. After that, Pohl plans to seek either volunteer work or paid employment, because she feels she still has something to contribute. She said she wants to do something other than library work, for a change.

An Augusta resident, Pohl said she’s leaving the library in good hands, and she looks forward to seeing the direction it will take in the future.

Bridgeo said Sarah Schultz-Nielsen, assistant library director, has agreed to step in as interim director of the library. He said a process to pick Pohl’s successor has not yet been finalized, in part because he has faith in Schultz-Nielsen’s ability to run the library in the meantime.

He said it would be impossible to estimate how many kids have benefited from the library during Pohl’s tenure, which she said spanned three city managers, three community services directors and five mayors. Bridgeo said being the director of a library is a hard job, as you are constricted in funding, and libraries are institutions where all people are welcome – even some who might be turned away from other facilities.

Pohl believes the future of libraries is strong, with circulation at Lithgow reaching new levels since the library reopened.

One thing she said is hard for her to let go of as she leaves the library is her role, for nearly the last three decades, of picking what adult fiction books to order for the library. That work involved researching books and what authors and styles of books have been popular with local readers in the past.

Among her accomplishments, she highlighted the community coming together to renovate and expand the library, and the recent restoration of the ornate original Reading Room of the library, which was completed with privately raised funds.

“The reading room restoration was really the cherry on top of that project,” Pohl said. “Every citizen in Augusta should be very proud of that and very proud of our heritage, and future.”

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

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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