The St. Anthony Park branch will reopen in early August.
Stephen Berens tugged on the locked door, then squinted at the sign that said the library had just closed for renovations and wouldn’t reopen until early August.
Renovations? “It’s perfectly fine the way it is now,” he said.
In an age of Wi-Fi and iPads, most neighbors still feel that way about the St. Anthony Park branch library in St. Paul, a picture-perfect classical brick box with Palladian windows that was built 96 years ago by Andrew Carnegie. But the work slated for the next two months will help the library serve patrons better, library officials said.
A self check-out and automated sorting system will be installed at St. Anthony Park to help librarians handle returned items faster and free them up for more interaction with the public, library director Kit Hadley said.
The reference and circulation desks also are being combined to offer a single point of contact for the public, a new model intended to improve service and create space for ever more people using Wi-Fi, she said.
The same basic project, done first at the Merriam Park library, is planned for the Rice Street branch in August.
The St. Anthony Park and Rice Street projects together should cost no more than $400,000, with partial funding from the Bremer Foundation, Hadley said.
Automated systems “help us cope with thinner staffing levels, which has been our reality for a number of years,” Hadley said. “Also, our staff gets repetitive-stress injuries by checking in materials.
“As much as possible, our staff’s time should be focused on the public. This will help us do that.”
The St. Paul library system has a number of projects either underway or set to go in the near future, said Hadley, soon to begin her fifth year as director.
The Payne-Maryland library and recreation center is under construction, with plans to open in 2014. Next year, capital projects will begin at the Highland and Sun Ray branches, which will get brand-new interiors, and at the Central Library downtown. Total cost will be $14.9 million, about half from the city and the other half from fundraising.
In three weeks, the Central Library will open its new community meeting room in ground-floor space once occupied by a cafe.
While the renovation work is underway, library staffers will undergo training and help out at other branches, Hadley said.
There are no plans to expand hours at other branches to make up for the lost time at St. Anthony Park, or to restore library hours in general to what they were before they were last cut in 2012.
The St. Anthony Park branch, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, last underwent a major restoration in 1988. It added a round children’s room in 1999 in part owing to the nonprofit St. Anthony Park Library Association, which on Saturday hosted the 44th annual St. Anthony Park Arts Festival to benefit the library.
In a short span of time Monday afternoon, about 10 people stopped at the library hoping to browse some books, read a newspaper or go online. The branch is the third busiest St. Paul public library in terms of circulation, behind Highland and Merriam Park.
Berens, a retired health insurance underwriter, grew up near the library and has visited it since he was a child. Even though he now lives closer to downtown St. Paul, he still takes the bus to the St. Anthony Park branch two or three times a week to check out the newspapers and nonfiction.
“This is home. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t come here,” he said.