Ludington Library, the busiest in Montgomery County, will close next month for a $9 million expansion and renovation to make the Bryn Mawr facility more user-friendly and accessible to the handicapped.
The project will take from 12 to 14 months, during which "Ludington Lite," three trailers housing the most popular parts of the collection, will be in the library's parking lot.
"Libraries are getting busier . . . not just in the recession environment but overall," said Christine Steckel, director of Lower Merion libraries. "This is just the right time to be tooling up in terms of space and equipment, and doing things in a different way."
The flagship of the Lower Merion system, Ludington is a mishmash of styles and rooms dating back to 1926. Its many rehabs over the years have not helped the problems of narrow aisles, obtrusive columns, and meeting rooms and restrooms that are hard to get to.
"Aside from fixing a lot of things, the big thing this renovation is going to do is make us 100 percent easily accessible," said head librarian Margery Hall.
The centerpiece will be a 10,400-square-foot, wraparound addition on Lancaster and Bryn Mawr Avenues.
The Bryn Mawr Avenue side will have an enclosed reading "porch," a more relaxed - and potentially louder - area with tables, chairs, and vending machines.
"People smuggle things in to eat anyway, so why not have it there?" Steckel said.
The Lancaster Avenue side will house the fiction collection, reference materials, magazines, newspapers, and several seating nooks. This, said Hall, will be a quiet area to read and work.
Two meeting rooms, one holding up to 120 people and a smaller one next to it, will be on the main level. A smaller meeting space is now in the warrenlike basement.
There will also be a separate young-adult area and an expanded second-floor children's library, as well as self-checkout stations and more computer terminals.
In a nod to bookstore marketing, the library will display popular materials, including books, audios, and DVDs, in high-traffic areas near the front of the building.
As the county's highest-circulation library, Ludington "gets a tremendous amount of use," said Steckel. According to Hall, 300,000 people come through the library annually, or up to 1,200 per day.
Ludington Lite will house a sliver of the most popular materials in the library and possibly a computer for Internet use. Customers can order books to be picked up at Ludington or any of the five other libraries in Lower Merion.
A grand reopening is planned for spring 2011.
The renovation will be paid for by a township bond issue and from a Lower Merion Library Foundation capital campaign.
Though money is tight and the economy still uncertain, Steckel said, this is a great "bid environment" for such an undertaking. In better financial times, "this same [project] might cost a great deal more," she said.
"It sounds contrarian, given the challenges to taxpayers and to people everywhere, but it's our feeling this is the right time, even though it's not the easiest time," she said.
Marianne King of Ardmore, who tutors people in English at the library twice a week, said she did not know the building was going to be closed so long. She will probably have to teach at a different library, she said, but a lot of people will be inconvenienced.
"It's going to be a hardship," she said. "I'm always surprised at how many people go in and out of here."