How Charlotte's Main Library is moving 140,000 collection items before it temporarily closes
Caitlin Moen was walking outside the Main Library branch in uptown Charlotte recently when the library director looked down and saw a small, metal plaque embedded into the sidewalk. It was a memento commemorating the original donation to build the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, something you might not associate with the building but something that is a part of the library – and Moen suddenly realized that they’d almost left it there.
Because on Oct. 29, the Main Library will close.
Before the end of the year, some 140,000 collection items will be removed from the facility.
And in early 2022, the building will be demolished to make way for a new $100 million Main Library slated to open in late 2025, according to The Charlotte Observer, in a one-year delay from its original timeline.
It’s been a massive undertaking to prepare for the temporary closure, and Moen said occasionally something like that plaque in the sidewalk will remind them of all the tiny details they didn’t account for.
“And just little things like that that are little one-off, things that you just don't think about in the moment or you didn't know were there,” she said. “And then you just want to make sure that they don't get lost in the shuffle of everything else that has to get done.”
Although returns and check-outs will no longer be available at the Main Library after 5 p.m. Oct. 29, patrons will have one final chance to say goodbye to the building that has stood in some form at North Tryon and Sixth streets for 118 years.
At “One for the Books,” tours and a viewing of a documentary will take place in the building the first two weekends of November. Reservations are requested online as space is limited because of COVID-19 restrictions. The free, self-guided tour is estimated to take 1.5-2 hours.
Additionally, the library will be auctioning off some mementos from the site, most notably the popular quotes on the columns outside the main entrance.
But through then and until the demolition, library staff will be feverishly packing and preparing everything to be moved. Some items will go to other library branches, and some will move to the new administration building that is being built on Eastway Drive and North Tryon Street as part of the project – but the opening of that building has been delayed until sometime in 2022. Some staff will work temporarily out of the county’s Hal Marshall Building until the new administration building is completed.
“What we have been working on is working through the collection, first to make sure that we're keeping everything that is of value and that is still of use to the community,” Moen said, “and then looking for opportunities to move things throughout the system so that they're still going to work for the library during the closure because we didn't want to store items for the length of the project, which, you know, kind of makes them inaccessible.”
And then, of course, there’s the matter of new books that typically flow through Main Library before being distributed to various other branches in the system. The plan had been to relocate that main hub to the new administration building … but now the library has to use a “stopgap interim measure,” Moen said, of using space in ImaginOn.
“We've got kind of a handful of good solutions and we're just really excited to get into that administrative building and just to be somewhere permanent again and be all together again,” Moen said. “So, we'll make it work in the meantime.”
For the duration of the time the Main Library is closed, two temporary uptown locations will open to provide both quick hold pickups and select browsing (CMLibrary at Founders Hall) and internet access (CMLibrary at College Street, in the First United Presbyterian Church).
The temporary relocation process, which has been in the works since 2019, has been so complex that Moen said it’s difficult to summarize her personal feelings at seeing the building she’s worked in for three years be demolished to make way for a new, state-of-the-art structure.
“There’s a sense of nostalgia, but I think it's really exciting to be a part of,” she said. “The library has been here on North Tryon, on this corner for 118 years, and it's really exciting to be part of a project that's going to bring a new library that's going to last for decades in the exact same spot.
“Hopefully they can say that the library has been on this corner for 200 years and 250 years and 300 years. And to be a part of that and to see that transition happening right here in front of me is really exciting. It's really exciting to be part of that."