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Library set to relaunch

Since the start of the year, Shelter Island Public Library goers have been more likely to hear the bang of hammers and whir of drills than the gentle sounds of pages turning and the soft tap of computer keys.

That should end on Saturday, when the library holds a ribbon-cutting and officially dedicates its renovated lower level -- a $700,000 gift from Shelter Island residents who donated the money to rebuild the small building. The renovation is its first major change since the library was constructed for $70,000 in 1965.

From the outside, the library looks the same. Its brick walls were never touched.

But inside, it's different. There are new computer tables, special racks to display magazines, and a new reading area. The basement room used to store books for sale on Saturdays -- one of the more popular library services -- has been expanded. Book cases on wheels and a sliding divider make it easier to hold community meetings, programs and classes such as drivers education.

For library director Denise DiPaolo, that extra space for programs is one of the best things about the renovation. When the new outdoor patio is in use, the library can hold events for more than 80 people.

The other big change is the elevator. For the first time, people can get to the library lower level without going outside and around the back.

Anyone using the library's six computers has had to sit around a big table, with no dividers, no privacy and little room to move.

"It's not unusual after the end of school to see kids sitting on the floor trying to find a little space," said Jo-Ann Robotti, president of the library's trustees.

Because private citizens funded the renovation, the work did not increase the tax rate on Shelter Island. Library officials decided to seek private monies after voters in 2008 rejected a $4 million expansion plan, 655 to 178.

Among the biggest complaints from residents after that vote was the library wasn't using the space it had. Many pointed to the unfinished basement, about half the size of the 6,000-square-foot main floor.

While e-books and other online resources have changed the way libraries meet card holders' needs, it hasn't made everything faster and easier. "People can download e-books, but that doesn't mean the staff isn't working harder," Robotti said. "After the holidays, we give one-on-one tutoring . . . all those people who got those gadgets say 'help me.' "

The library plans a VIP open house at 10:30 a.m. Saturday for the more than 100 donors for the renovations; and a 4 p.m. open house for the public.

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