Category Archives: Library

“Maxine, We Already Miss You!”

More than 400 of Maxine Bleiweis’s closest friends packed the Westport Library tonight, to bid a fond farewell to their favorite library director.

From the Maker Space (“people thought I’d lost my mind when I brought that in,” Maxine joked) to the tables where puzzles and chess sets often entice users, boldface names and “regular” patrons sat together — as they always do there. All were united in their love of the library, and the leader who is leaving after 17 years.

Like Beyoncé or Pele, Maxine needs only one name. And like those superstars, she is one of a kind.

Maxine does it all.

Maxine does it all.

Diane Wildman expressed the sentiments of many in the crowd.

Dianne Wildman expressed the sentiments of many in the crowd.

Tech guru David Pogue -- who joked that Maxine got him involved in the Westport Library before he even moved from Stamford -- performed an original (and never-to-be-heard again) number:

Tech guru David Pogue — who joked that Maxine got him involved in the Westport Library even before he moved from Stamford — performed an original (and never-to-be-heard again) number: “The Bleiweis Zone.”

A small part of the large crowd tonight. Some stood on the balcony above.

A small part of the large crowd tonight. Some stood on the balcony above.

New York Times crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz presented Maxine with a special gift (see below).

New York Times crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz presented Maxine with a special gift (see below).

Shortz's gift was a word game, in which every 2-word answer starts with the letters

Shortz’s gift was a word game, in which every 2-word answer starts with the letters “MB.” Each includes a circled letter. When read in order, you’ll never guess what they spell!

Westport's state legislators Jonathan Steinberg, Tony Hwang and Gail Lavielle were in the house (Toni Boucher was also there, meeting a constituent). Steinberg presented Maxine with a  proclamation signed by

Westport’s state legislators Jonathan Steinberg, Tony Hwang and Gail Lavielle were in the house (Toni Boucher was also there, meeting a constituent). Steinberg presented Maxine with a proclamation signed by “a governor who tried to cut library funding.” Hwang praised her for educating him on the vital importance of public libraries.

Maxine said that she was almost speechless -- in English. So instead she pronounced herself

Maxine said that she was almost speechless — in English. So instead she pronounced herself “verklempt.”

Down By the Riverside

Today’s weather is not exactly the get-outside-and-enjoy type.

But a couple of days ago, it was. Westporters did.

And alert “06880” reader/photographer Fred Cantor was there — at the Riverwalk — to capture them.

Rodin's "The Thinker"? No, Cantor's "The Reader."

Rodin’s “The Thinker”? No, Cantor’s “The Reader.”

A late lunch, and great light.

A late lunch, and a great view.

Fred Cantor - 3

Not an abandoned bicycle. The rider walked down the nearby steps, to the water’s edge.


Maxine Bleiweis, Sam Gault: “1st Citizens Of Westport”

One is leaving. Another is staying. And 5 more have fantastic futures ahead.

1st CitizenThis Tuesday (June 9, Westport Inn, 6:30 p.m.), the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce presents First Citizen Awards to Westport Library director Maxine Bleiweis (she’s leaving, after turning it into an amazingly lively and innovative place) and Sam Gault (5th-generation president of the company that bears his family’s name; driving force behind Saugatuck’s wonderful rebirth — he’s staying).

The Chamber will also honor 5 “Young Entrepreneurs”: Staples seniors Harry Epstein, Nick Massoud and Scott Pecoriello, and Weston High’s Rebecca Marks and Michael Sitver. They’ll be cited for their efforts in creating “new and intriguing business ventures.”

Scott developed a subscription weather service, a weather app and a general interest blogging platform. Nick owns Top Hat Tutors, employing 22 tutors in a variety of subjects. Michael blogs about emerging technologies, and is a website consultant to businesses.

That makes sense — the Chamber of Commerce is all about supporting local businesses.

So — this also makes sense — Tuesday’s keynote speaker is Ron DeFeo. He’s CEO of Terex Corporation. It’s a local business (in the sense that it’s headquartered here). But it’s also a  $7.1 billion manufacturer of heavy equipment, with over 15,900 employees and 50 manufacturing facilities on 5 continents.

The library. Saugatuck. Construction cranes.

That’s a paragraph that may never have been written before, in the history of the world. But it’s all on tap here this Tuesday — plus catering by Garelick & Herbs.

(For tickets and more information, click here.)

Sam Gault and Maxine Bleiweis.

Sam Gault and Maxine Bleiweis.

Westport Library Names New Director

And the new Maxine Bleiweis is — William Harmer.

The Michigan librarian — one of 2 finalists introduced to the public last month — takes over as Westport Library executive director on July 27.

William Harmer

William Harmer

In a press release, the library called Harmer “an experienced and innovative leader in the library field.” He spent the past 6 years as director of the Chelsea District Library, after serving 3 years as head of adult services.

The Chelsea website calls it the “best small library in America.” That’s no idle boast: The selection was made by The Library Journal and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Library Journal also named Harmer to the Class of 2009 Movers & Shakers — emerging leaders from around the world making a difference in the library field.

The “Movers and Shakers” writeup — titled “Buzz Master” — said that in 2005, Baldwin Public Library (Birmingham, Michigan) teen services librarian Harmer “became nationally known for the buzz he created with his Rock ’n’ Roll Library Tour. A former DJ, Harmer convinced the Detroit-based band The High Strung to take its act to Michigan public libraries and then to over 200 libraries in 48 states.”

The story continued:

Now, as head of adult services at Chelsea District Library (CDL), he’s generating buzz around such programs as a senior “lock-in” and “A Day in the Life of Chelsea,” in which seniors document their town using library-provided disposable cameras. Chelsea Senior Center director Tina Patterson says, “Some days I feel we need a leash or a butterfly net to keep up with him.”

Harmer helped CDL earn LJ’s 2008 Best Small Library in America Award with his aggressive outreach to community organizations, including a grant for a 6-year local oral history initiative.

William Harmer leaves

William Harmer leaves “the best small public library in the country.”

Harmer came late to librarianship, which means, he says, “I didn’t have any previous conceptions, so there were consequently no boundaries.”

But he does more than just push boundaries. Former CDL librarian Elizabeth Goldman says that “once his ideas come—and they do with startling frequency—he not only brings them to fruition but shares them.” In fact, he’s starting a business called Black River Group, which combines consulting and program planning for libraries.

Buzz is contagious. Stand next to Harmer, and you’re likely to catch it.

In 2013, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation chose Harmer as one of 120 world library leaders to attend its global conference on the future of libraries in Cape Town, South Africa.

This year, the Chelsea District Library was cited by the area Chamber of Commerce for its support of local economic development, and its focus on community-building programs and services.

Harmer has also served on the Board of Directors of the Michigan Library Association and as president of the Rotary Club of Chelsea. He has been a  keynote speaker at many library-related conferences, including the Ontario and Alaska annual conferences and at the University of Illinois.

“I am delighted to be joining the talented team of library professionals at the Westport Library; an organization that exemplifies what a world-class, 21st century library can be,” he say.

“I look forward to getting to know the staff, our patrons, developing collaborative relationships with organizations and leaders throughout the community and building on the exceptional work of Maxine Bleiweis.”

William Harmer swoops into the Westport Library on July 27. (Photo/Dave Elgart)

William Harmer swoops into the Westport Library on July 27. (Photo/Dave Elgart)

Mike Guthman, president of The Westport Library board of trustees, says, “Bill Harmer possesses the intellectual, creative and entrepreneurial spirit that is at the heart of the Library. He comes to us with the experience, talent and leadership skills to maintain the Westport Library at the forefront of innovation, and to propel the Library into its next phase of development and transformation.”

Harmer began his library career in 2001. He has held leadership positions at libraries in Farmington and Birmingham, Michigan. He earned a bachelor of arts in literature and creative writing from Eastern Michigan University, and a master’s in library and information science from Wayne State University. He is married, and has 3 children.

Eric Burns Remembers 1920

Like Sam Cooke more than 50 years ago, most Americans today don’t know much about history.

Eric Burns does.

Eric Burns

Eric Burns

The longtime Westporter — an award-winning media analyst and former NBC News correspondent– has just written a new book: 1920: The Year That Made the Decade Roar.

The few folks still alive then probably don’t remember much about that year. The rest of us probably wouldn’t peg it as any different from, say, 1919 or 1921.

But Burns does. In a recent interview with Salon, he explained:

 1920 was the year of the first terrorist attack on U.S. soil. It was the only year in which there have been 2 amendments to the Constitution (Prohibition and the women’s vote). For the entire year, we had a female president— not elected, obviously; she was the de facto president, not the president de jure— because of Woodrow Wilson’s stroke. Isn’t it ironic that for the entire year of 1920, the year women got the vote, there was a woman running the country?

1920 was also the year of Charles Ponzi (cue the Bernie Madoff comparisons); debates over “homeland security” (following the alleged terrorism by anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti), and immense changes in art and literature.

In fact, according to the Salon writer who interviewed Burns:

The America of the 1920s, especially during the very first year of the decade, really was eerily similar to America today! The country was recovering from a war of choice that not only led to results far less inspiring than originally promised, but caused a toxic level of division and rancor within the body politic; the economy was turbulent, with new technologies and social norms wrenching an agricultural society ever-more toward the cities; immigration was changing the very face of the average citizen, often in a way American nativists could not stand; and terrorism was forcing a political culture built on dual loyalties to liberty and safety to engage in a precarious rebalancing.

There’s much more — and Burns will talk about it all at the Westport Library this Thursday (May 21, 7:30 p.m.).

Attendance is free for anyone 95 years or older. And everyone else, too.

1920 book - Eric Burns

Community Conversation Set For Sunday On #WhiteLivesMatter Flyer

Last week, some Westporters woke to find #WhiteLivesMatter flyers thrown anonymously onto their lawns and driveways.

Some were outraged. Others shrugged.

When “06880” reported the story, some commenters talked about hate groups. Others talked about the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Still others countered, “All Lives Matter.”

It was an intense discussion. And it deserves to be played out not only in cyberspace, but in real time, with real faces.

Several local organizations are giving Westporters the chance to do just that. This Sunday (May 17, 4 p.m., Westport Library), everyone is invited to a community conversation. The topic is: “Why Does the Flyer Matter?”

Participants include First Selectman James Marpe, Police Chief Dale Call, Rev. Alison Patton of the Saugatuck Congregational Church, and yours truly.

TEAM-Westport-logo2The following statement announcing the event was signed by TEAM Westport, Interfaith Clergy Association of Westport and Weston, the Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County, Westport Human Services Commission, the Westport Board of Education, and Westport Police:

On the night of Thursday, May 7, 2015  flyers containing the slogan “#White Lives Matter” were left anonymously at a number of residences in Westport. We are deeply troubled by this campaign. While some have raised questions about the intent of the slogan, it is clear from similar campaigns in neighboring towns that this message was motivated by racism, which we reject absolutely and without qualification.

Further, we contend that dismantling racism requires us to attend to the impact of actions, regardless of intent. These flyers attempt to co-opt a movement that has been created by citizens of color across our nation to redress disparities in treatment, based on race. We are united in declaring that these flyers have no place in Westport, which aspires to be an inclusive community that values a diverse population.

We affirm the principle that all lives matter equally. However, there is much more work to do before our nation achieves genuine equality across race and ethnicity. In circumstances where this equality is not upheld, we affirm our commitment to support and pursue constructive efforts to redress institutional and cultural racism which tears at the fabric of our nation.

In the next several months we will organize a number of opportunities in Westport for education, discussion and engagement on matters relating to race relations in the United States. The initial event will be a community conversation held at the Westport Library on Sunday, May 17 at 4 p.m. regarding the topic:  “Why Does the Flyer Matter?” We hope you will join us.

Flyers like these were tossed onto lawns in Westport in the middle of the night last week.

These flyers were tossed onto Westport lawns in the middle of the night last week.

Lynsey’s Love Fest

Maxine Bleiweis has mastermined 17 “Booked for the Evenings.”

But tonight was her first honoring a homegrown hero.

Lynsey Addario — Pulitzer Prize winner, MacArthur genius grant awardee, inspiration for an upcoming Steven Spielberg movie and now best-selling author — drew a packed house to the Westport Library.

Friends from childhood, friends of her parents, family members (including her 102-year-old grandmother), and just proud Westporters, they were already impressed by the New York Times photojournalist. When they saw her compelling images, heard her harrowing stories of her work in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Darfur and Libya, they left even more awed.

Lynsey Addario speaking tonight at the Westport Library's

Lynsey Addario speaking tonight at the Westport Library’s “Booked for the Evening.” One of her vivid photographs is projected behind her.

It was a hometown evening. Actress Cynthia Gibb (Staples High School Class of ’81) read excerpts from Lynsey’s book, It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War. Doug Tirola (Staples ’84) produced a tribute video (narrated by CNN anchor and Easton native Ivan Watson). Eli Koskoff (Staples ’15, and Lynsey’s colleague Tyler Hicks’ nephew) played guitar.

Lynsey was called “brilliant, articulate, warm, engaging and very kind” — and she did not disappoint. She gave shout-outs to her sisters, parents, and the town she grew up in. All helped provide the one quality that, she said, every photojournalist needs: “being non-judgmental.”

It was a wonderful evening: for Lynsey, for Westport, and for the library that — in 17 years of “Booked” events — has raised over $3 million.

As New York Times Magazine director of photography Kathy Ryan said: “This is the rocking-est library I’ve ever seen!”

#White Lives Matter: Yes, The Flyers Are Racist

The discovery Thursday morning of anonymous flyers — saying only “#White Lives Matter” — disturbed Westporters in the Compo Beach and Roseville Road areas.

The reaction to yesterday’s “06880” story was mixed. Some commenters were stunned, ashamed, appalled and angry.

Flyers like these were tossed onto lawns in Westport early Thursday morning.

Flyers like these were tossed onto lawns in Westport early Thursday morning.

Others complained of an over-reaction. “All lives matter,” they noted. They said this was political correctness run amok, and wondered why anyone assumed the flyer was “racist.”

As the story reported, similar flyers were distributed equally anonymously — in Ziploc bags, weighted with pebbles — in Milford a few days earlier.

There was one difference. While the Westport flyers said only “#White Lives Matter,” the Milford flyers included more text. They said:

America is under attack. This fact has been known for some time. Each year, we the American people lose more rights. Each election we get sold out and stabbed in the back. Between misfits robbing us and the government taxing us, we the honest hardworking Americans are barely getting by. Tired of being tired, and sick of being sick, Americans united in 1987 to form The Nationalist Movement. And ever since, it has served the American people proudly.

While other groups pop up only to vanish, The Nationalist Movement continues striding to unify the American people and liberate us from the communist regime that is currently occupying our White House and Congress Halls. The American people have been shackled with chains of “equality”, beaten bloody with the whip of “diversity”, and forced to bow a knee before the tyrants ruining our homeland.

However, Americans all across this sacred nation are arising, to make a difference. This exclusive organization carries the Red, White, and Blue with the same pride that our fore fathers did. And in doing so, we vow to never let the Amrican [sic]  dream perish.

There was a link for the Nationalist Movement website. The site shows photos of a flag that looks like a cross between a cross and a swastika.

Nationalist Movement

On the home page, there is a link to “Racist America Radio.”

This Radio show is for activists, not those who are lukewarm, sell outs, or inactive keyboard commando’s [sic]. This is real life activism, in the public, without police protection. We are friends to only the truly sincere devotees of freedom. We stand with only the true zealots for our people.

So yeah, there is a racist element to the flyers.

Perhaps the Westport flyers were just a juvenile, copycat attempt?

Probably not. Both flyers used the exact same typeface and 3-line style.

The Westport (left) and Milford (right) flyers.

The Westport (left) and Milford (right) flyers.

Meanwhile, Westporters swung into action.

Yesterday afternoon, representatives from TEAM Westport, houses of worship, Staples High School, the Westport library, the town Social Services department, and community members gathered at the Saugatuck Church to frame a response.

They are drafting a joint statement. They’re organizing a community conversation at the library (Sunday, May 17, 4 p.m.). Additional steps will follow.

Clergy have been encouraged to speak about the incident in services this weekend.

They’re also compiling a webpage of resources — blog entries, videos, podcasts, etc. — to provide history and context for the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

More will follow.

All lives matter. Including those that stand up against vile, offensive, and very racist behavior.

(Hat tip: Dan Donovan)

How Our Gardens Grow

You can see the Westport Garden Club‘s work all over town.

In the early 1970s, Ginny Sherwood asked fellow members to reclaim a 3-acre landfill on Imperial Avenue. Her vision of a refuge along the Saugatuck River came true. Today, Westporters love the hidden-in-plain-sight beauty of Grace Salmon Park.

It’s a delightful spot for a walk, picnic or simply a few moments of peace and quiet.

Over the years though, the land has flooded. Vegetation has been lost. It needs improvement.

The Garden Club will once again help. Members are recommending which plants to save, and which native species to add. They’ll provide volunteers to do the labor, and keep Grace Salmon Park looking great.

To accomplish this — and so much more — the club needs funds. They raise money the best way they know how. This year’s annual plant sale is set for Friday, May 8 (9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.) at the Saugatuck Congregational Church.

Among the Westport Garden Club's many activities: keeping the Compo Beach entrance looking gorgeous. Members were hard at work recently. (Photo/Ann Pawlick)

Among the Westport Garden Club’s many activities: keeping the Compo Beach entrance looking gorgeous. Members hard at work recently (from left): Roseanne Mihalick, Jane Eyes, Jenny Robson, Debbie Tiede, Lori Meinke, Sue McCabe. (Photo/Ann Pawlick)

The Garden Club is one of those organizations whose work Westporters constantly admire, even if we don’t know it’s theirs. They’re responsible for — among many other things — planting, weeding, pruning and mulching sites like the Compo Beach entry and marina; Adams Academy; the Earthplace entrance; the Library’s winter garden near Jesup Green; various cemeteries, and the Nevada Hitchcock Memorial Garden at the Cross Highway/Weston Road intersection.

We also owe the club thanks for what we don’t see.

In the 1930s — just a few years after its founding — the Westport Garden Club persuaded the town to ban billboards on all local roads.

The prohibition still stands.

So on Friday, buy a plant to support the Westport Garden Club. For nearly 100 years they’ve made our hometown look beautiful — just like home.

Westport Garden Club logo


Brother, Can You Spare A Ride?

“06880” reader Elliott Fisher is a 1977 graduate of Staples High School. Except for 1992-2004, he has lived in the same house here since 1971.

Last August, Elliott suffered a mild stroke. He is no longer able to drive. He writes:

While I have wonderful friends who take me grocery shopping and to various doctor appointments, my greatest treat is the social aspect of being at the Westport Library.

I would like to be able to get there 4-5 times a week. Are there Westport residents who can drive me from my house off Greens Farms Road, near South Compo?

If so, please email, or text 203-451-5087. Put “Help with a ride” in the subject line. Thank you!

That’s Elliott’s request, and it’s an important one.

Here’s mine: There must be many folks like Elliott in Westport in the same, um, boat. What transportation opportunities are available to them? (Besides the obvious — and costly — taxis.)

If you’ve got ideas, please click “Comments ” below. Knowledge = power.

Elliott Fisher

Elliott Fisher