A chapter in the Howard County Library System is ending, and officials and patrons alike are getting ready to write the next part of the story.
The 49-year-old Charles E. Miller Library on Frederick Road in Ellicott City, the oldest of the county's six branches, is preparing to close its doors for the last time Sept. 30 and will be turned into administrative offices.
"It's already been renovated a few times, and it can't be expanded any more," said library spokeswoman Christie Lassen, adding that the branch was bursting at its seams with books. "It just made more sense economically and practically to build a new building."
That new replacement building next door — the Charles E. Miller Branch and Historical Center — is expected to open in mid-December.
That leaves a two-and-a-half month gap with no library at the site, but branch Manager Susan Stonesifer said customers have been understanding of the transition, if not a little sad.
"People say, 'I love this little library,' or 'I have such fond memories of this place,' or 'But this place is so cozy,'" Stonesifer said. "But this will be an incredible space, a library for everyone — a gathering space for the community to learn and meet and grow in all kinds of different ways."
One of those "different ways" will be the Enchanted Garden. An outdoor classroom that will focus on health, nutrition and environmental education, the garden is the first of its kind, according to library President Valerie Gross.
"We're trying to grow healthy habits for the children in the county," Gross said.
With the focus on green education, the library also is aiming for a gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for its environmentally friendly features, Gross said.
The new building also will include offices and collections of the Howard County Historical Society, one of the library's several partners.
"This building is envisioned to connect the past with the present and the future," Gross said. "With the historical center in the building, people will have easy access to the knowledge and expertise of the society. We'll be bringing history to life in an unprecedented way in the county. Currently the historical society is tucked away in Ellicott City, and now it'll be center stage."
During the transition, Stonesifer said, branch staff will be temporarily transferred to other branches. Additionally, Stonesifer said, the system will hire 8-12 new employees to help staff the new library, which will be three times the size of the current Miller building.
The new branch will be housed in a 63,000 square-feet, two-story building, and will include an opening-day collection of 242,000 items, Lassen said — 53 percent more than the current collection.
All of those items have to be moved to the new building after Sept. 30, Stonesifer said.
"There is not enough ibuprofen in the world for this," she said. "Anyone who's ever moved has to have empathy for us; we have decades of stuff here."
In the meantime, patrons like Joan Ryan and Kathy Buck, both of Ellicott City, will be going to the other library branches, specifically the Central branch and East Columbia branches, both in Columbia.
Interviewed at the Miller branch last week, neither expressed frustration over the branch's closing, but rather excitement over the new facility.
"We'll probably go less frequently (to the Columbia branches)," said Ryan, 56. "But the new building, that'll be nice. We actually came to see about volunteering at the new place."
It was Buck's first time at the branch, where she was getting a library card and a volunteer application form. A voracious reader, Buck said she spends too much time — and money — at book stores.
"Books, and books on an iPad — it was getting expensive," she said. "This is free, and truthfully, I can't imagine now not having a library, or books around. Anything else is too impersonal."