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Library expansion stirs hopes in Bryn Mawr

The Bryn Mawr library's massive $9 million expansion is progressing more slowly than expected but is already redefining the look of the central intersection there.

The Bryn Mawr library's massive $9 million expansion is progressing more slowly than expected but is already redefining the look of the central intersection there.

The building's two-story, wraparound, glass-enclosed reading "porch" will be the project's centerpiece when the library reopens, now tentatively set to happen in the fall.

With the newish Bryn Mawr Farmers Market across the street and the Bryn Mawr Film Institute also being spruced up and expanded a half-block away, the area near the Ludington Library has been revitalized even as the number of empty storefronts is growing in the village.

"It's great, just great," said David Broida, who was in the area Friday to set up for the Bryn Mawr Twilight Concerts, which he runs in a gazebo near the library. "It will be a magnet. I hate to use a cliché, but it's like a field of dreams - if you build it, they will come."

Ludington closed in winter 2010, when work began. When it reopens, it will have 30 percent to 40 percent more space for people, library director Margery Hall said, and about 10 percent fewer books. But that doesn't mean the collection is shrinking.

The "cream of the crop" will remain at the library; the rest will be housed at Lower Merion's Ardmore processing center, where materials are cataloged and stored, said Christine Steckel, director of Lower Merion's libraries, standing in front of the library as a construction crew worked on the building Thursday.

When the renovation was first considered, library directors realized there was too little room for people because of the large collection, which necessitated a warren of narrow, hard-to-navigate passages throughout the building, she said.

Though popular books and audiovisual materials will remain, items such as an author's older works might be shipped off to the processing center and will be available on request, either online or by stopping by the center. Materials also can be shipped to other libraries.

"The collection will still be extremely strong," Steckel said.

Getting rid of the clutter means more room for seating areas, tables, and computer stations as well as two meeting rooms, one with a capacity of 120 people, and a smaller one next to it.

The meeting rooms will be housed in the oldest parts of the library, which is on its fifth expansion. The smaller meeting room will be in a section of Ludington that dates to its founding in 1926. The bigger room will be in a 1950s-era section and will have a vaulted ceiling.

The highlight of the renovation, though, is the 10,400-square-foot reading "porch" with tables, chairs, and vending machines on the Bryn Mawr Avenue side. The Lancaster Avenue side will house the fiction collection, reference materials, magazines, newspapers, and several seating nooks.

Ludington looked into offering a Starbucks-style coffee bar, which many libraries have adopted to compete with local bookstores, but decided it wouldn't be profitable enough.

The new building will also have a separate young-adult area and an expanded second-floor children's library, as well as self-checkout stations.

Though many libraries are cutting back services because of funding cuts, the Ludington project was paid for by a township bond issue and a Lower Merion Library Foundation capital campaign.

Next, Ludington is looking to install a $668,000 high-tech security, inventory, and checkout system that uses radio frequencies instead of bar codes, Steckel said. "It's fast, it's powerful, and it's multifunctioning," she said, and would be installed in all six township libraries, but that has not been approved yet by the township commissioners.

During the renovation, three trailers dubbed "Ludington Lite," housing popular books and audiovisual materials, were set up in the parking lot. Customers can also reserve books online or go to the Ardmore processing center.

The project was supposed to have been completed in April but was put off by weather and general construction delays.

"We're trying to get a final schedule together," Steckel said.