Category Archives: Library

Frank Bruni: “A Generation Of High School Kids Throws Darts At The College Dartboard”

An overflow crowd filled the Westport Library yesterday, to hear Frank Bruni talk about college admissions.

Go figure.

The award-winning New York Times journalist — who has covered presidents and popes, served as chief restaurant critic, and now writes a wildly popular Sunday column — was here to talk about his new book.

Frank Bruni bookIt’s called Where You’ll Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote To The College Admissions Mania. On this topic, of course, Westport is one of the most manic places on the planet.

Bruni, who is 50, grew up in an area similar to Westport — a place that could give us a run for our (college-leads-to-Wall Street) money.

But even though there was an implied competition back then, based on college stickers on the backs of cars — and even though Bruni joked about going to a school (the University of North Carolina) supposedly less prestigious than those of his siblings — he said things today are far, far worse.

Which is why he wrote his book.

Bruni said that as he realized he knew so many contented and accomplished people — and that they’d gone to an enormous range of colleges — he understood that all the admissions talk has been focused on the wrong thing.

“We should focus much more on how students choose and use college, than on how to get in,” he said. “‘Success’ comes not from where you go, but from figuring out a school’s landscape, and how to till it.”

Frank Bruni

Frank Bruni

Citing examples from his book, Bruni talked about schools like Rhode Island School of Design (where the founders of Airbnb went), and the University of Waterloo (which produced the most number of graduates with successful Y Combinator venture capital pitches).

Last year, Bruni taught a course at Princeton. Though he was “in some way in awe” of the school, he realized that many students were tone deaf about their place in it, and the world.

One eating club tradition is “State Night.” Students dress, and act, “as if they went to a state school,” he said.

Part of the reason is that high school students in places like Westport hear messages about the perceived differences between private and state schools (and see “rankings” of every private school too).

College pennantsPart of the reason too is that some students spend so much time trying to “get in” that they don’t care much about what happens once they do.

“We have a generation of kids applying to 18 or 20 different college. They’re throwing darts at a dartboard. They can’t understand what all those schools offer. So once they get there, they don’t know what to do,” Bruni said.

Audience members had plenty of questions.

They wanted to know what Bruni thought about the importance of “making connections” at highly competitive schools. (He thinks that students at those college are already on the path to success. “If you’re someone who reaches far, it doesn’t matter which school gave you its imprimatur. You’ll get there.”)

There are plenty of reasons for this admissions mania, Bruni noted — and it’s not only parents who share the blame. Colleges “cynically” take measures to drive down their acceptance rates — like not requiring SATs, or sending information to students who are clearly not qualified — so their yields will look more impressive in the US News & World Report rankings.

The overflow audience at the Westport Library.

The overflow audience at the Westport Library.

Bruni says it’s important for “influencers” — teachers, counselors, anyone talking with students — to change the tone of conversations.

Of course, those conversations often begin at home. “Kids should not feel that where they go to college is a validation — or repudiation — of their parents.”

The crowd was large and appreciative. Bruni’s message was especially important for teenagers to hear. But there were very few of them in the audience.

I guess the sophomores and juniors were at SAT courses.

And the seniors were home, waiting to hear from 18 or 20 colleges.

Remember “Kunepiam”?

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a story about a strange engraving, on an equally strange door, set in the brick wall that separates the train station parking lot from the lovely Stony Point homes just beyond it.

The engraving said “Kunepiam.” It was surrounded by what look like Native American pictograms, and perhaps settlers.

Kunepiam

No one was quite sure where it came from, or what it meant. “06880” readers thought it might have been part of witchcraft; perhaps a Christian symbol; maybe even more modern than anyone imagined. Mary Palmieri Gai wondered if it came from the Native American word meaning “long water land,” which Quinnipiac College was named after.

Yesterday, the Westport Library research department posted the definitive answer. Most readers may have missed it — they were busy mourning the impending end of Mario’s, just across the tracks — so here is the complete result of what the researchers found.

But first, cue the applause for our library!

—————————————————

We started working on this question a few weeks ago when we saw this post. We are happy to report that “kunepiam” is derived from the Algonquin word “koonepeam,” meaning “thou art welcome.”

Our success in finding this answer was due to the extra effort made by Lucianne Lavin, director of research and collections at the Institute for American Indian Studies in Washington, Connecticut. She reached out to Carl Masthay, retired medical editor, linguist, and Algonquianist, who in turn reached out to Dr. Ives Goddard, a nationally known professional, senior linguist and curator in the anthropology department at the Smithsonian Institution. He was the linguistic and technical editor for the Handbook of North American Indians, and is a specialist in Algonquian languages.

Here is Dr. Goddard’s answer:

Westport Library logo“If (considering the picture at 06880, Westport, Conn.) you look up “welcome” in Trumbull’s Natick Dictionary [page 343], you find koonepeam ‘(thou art) welcome’ (cited from Josiah Cotton, with no page [1830]). I type “oo” for Eliot’s digraph (rendered “8” in Goddard & Bragdon: Native Writings in Massachusett, 1988). Some knowledgeable person has slightly re-spelled this, perhaps someone at the Bureau of American Ethnology that a letter was referred to. The word is a calque* on the English (“you come well”) but perhaps in use in Cotton’s day. “

[Ives Goddard, pers. com., 25 March 2015. Carl Masthay’s note: “Natick” is now referred to as “Massachusett.” Morphemes**: k-ooni-pia-m ‘you-well-come-animate.final’.]

Mr. Masthay suggested that a small plate be installed next to the stone to help “clear up this issue for eternity.”

Please reach out to us for any follow-up questions or reference questions in general!

– Susan Luchars, Margie Frelich-Den, and Dennis Barrow, Reference Department, Westport Public Library 203 291 4840, ref@westportlibrary.org

*The meaning of “calque”: a loan translation, especially one resulting from bilingual interference in which the internal structure of a borrowed word or phrase is maintained but its morphemes are replaced by those of the native language, as German halbinsel for peninsula. (Dictionary.com)

**The meaning of “morpheme”: any of the minimal grammatical units of a language, each constituting a word or meaningful part of a word, that cannot be divided into smaller independent grammatical parts, as the, write, or the -ed of waited (Dictionary.com)

———————————–

Amazing. Now all we need to know is:

  • How do you pronounce it?
  • And how did it get there?

40 Years, 40 Photos Of Sherwood Island

Larry Silver is well known for his iconic Longshore shots.

But the very talented Westport photographer has spent countless hours a couple of miles away at Sherwood Island too. That’s Westport’s out-of-sight, out-of-mind beach.

Tomorrow (Friday, March 27), the Westport Library introduces “Sherwood Island, 1975-2015″: more than 40 of Silver’s images, from the past 40 years.

"Woman With Boombox" -- Larry Silver, 1980.

“Woman With Boombox” — Larry Silver, 1980.

The photos show the changing styles of visitors to Connecticut’s 1st state park — and its timelessness. The shots — in black and white, and digital color; in every season, all over the park — are classics.

One of the library photos — “Sunset at Sherwood Island State Park” — is included in the Smithsonian Museum of American Art’s permanent collection.

"Man Barbecuing Next to Black and White Umbrella" -- Larry Silver, 2014.

“Man Barbecuing Next to Black and White Umbrella” — Larry Silver, 2014.

Every Westporter knows where the library is. Not everyone knows Sherwood Island — the overlooked gem right on our coast.

After Larry Silver’s exhibit, no one can forget it.

"Couple Photographing Children in Water" -- Larry Silver, 2014.

“Couple Photographing Children in Water” — Larry Silver, 2014.

Today’s The Day For A Library Shout-Out

How do you love the Westport Library?

Let the Institute of Museum and Library Services count the ways.

Our library is a finalist for the IMLS’ National Medal. It’s the highest honor for extraordinary public service, recognizing institutions that go waaay above and beyond as community anchors.

Each finalist gets 1 day for patrons to share stories on the IMLS Facebook page. Westport’s day is today: Thursday, March 26.

If you’ve got a Facebook account, click this link. “Like” the page, and post stories, fun facts, photos, videos — anything you’d like to share about the Westport Library. (Include the hashtag #NationalMedal too.)

Library museum page

Be creative. After all, this is Westport!

The IMLS says that the volume of posts doesn’t play into which finalist wins — but hey, you never know.

Technologically challenged? Don’t have a Facebook account? Head over to the Westport Library. Their staff will be happy to help you out!

Eric Burns: A Very Moving Story

Alert “06880” reader Eric Burns — prolific author, Fox News Watch media analyst for the network and Entertainment Tonight commentator and former Westporter — writes:

I moved to Ridgefield after my divorce because I wanted to get away from everything and everybody.

Bad idea.

I felt isolated. I drove into Westport 2 or 3 times a week, to Trader Joe’s, Christie’s Service Station, Five Guys, Acqua, Baker Graphics, Barnes and Noble, the Library — all of them places with which I am familiar, all of them places that I missed.

I spent a lot of money on gas, a lot of time on the road. Finally, I decided I had to move back.

Eric Burns...

Eric Burns…

But because I have about 2,300 books, I found no place in Westport that could accommodate them in a single room. So, next best thing. I moved to Norwalk, where my daughter and her fiance live — and, I hope, close to where my son will live when he finishes grad school.

I started preparing for the move a month before the van was due, filling 10 small boxes a day. I numbered them carefully, and carried them from my upstairs library into the garage. I am certain that, single-handedly, and not especially well-muscled, I moved at least a ton of product.

I lined up the boxes perfectly, in numerical order. I told the movers that when they unloaded the books into my new library, they needed to do just 2 things.  First, put the boxes on the floor in chronological order in front of the shelves.  Second, set down the boxes so I could see the numbers on them.

Because of the way I had prepared the boxes for loading on the van, it should have been an easy task for 4 men.

The ending of the story should be obvious.  My new library — a furnished basement on Linden Street — now contains 287 boxes of books in no particular order. Most are without the number showing. Some are upside down, others broken apart with books scattered into other boxes.

...surrounded by boxes...

…surrounded by random boxes…

Yesterday I found box #1. Now I have to go through 286 boxes to find number 2.  It could take an hour — to find one box. One box scattered senselessly in a pile of 286 boxes, which might just as well have been thrown on the floor from the top of the steps.

It took the 4 men from the moving company an hour and a half to wreak their havoc. Because of a bad back, and the fact that I am but one person, it will take me a week or more to find the right boxes, and fill the bookcases in their proper order. Even spreading the work out over that much time, I still expect sharp, stabbing pains in my back.

I am not young. Nor am I a professional mover.

I emailed the company to complain. They offered to clean up the mess. All I had to do was kick in an additional $119. I declined the offer. I had, I said, already paid my bill.

...and empty shelves.

…and empty shelves.

I love the feel of a book, the look of it, the scent of it — even, on occasion, the heft of it.  Now, for the first time, I find myself thinking longingly of a Kindle.

Do you remember the old TV show “All My Sons”? Not very funny, but pleasant enough, and successful in its time. Do you know the moving company All My Sons? Forget it.

Yet even with the shoddy work of some of All My Sons’ sons, I’m happy to be back near Westport. On May 21 I will speak at the Westport Library about my next book, 1920: The Year That Made the Decade Roar.

By that time my library will be intact. I will not say a word about the moving company that made the author roar, nor the amount of time it took me to find my copy of the book, a needle in the haystack of 2,300 such items.

Library’s Latest Shout-Out: Forbes.com

Forbes may be “the capitalist tool.” But it’s got a soft spot for a certain everyone’s-equal space: the Westport Library.

Forbes-logoForbes.com carries a story — “Remarkable Lessons in Innovation From a Public Library” — by Westporter Bruce Kasanoff.

He begins: “There are two ways to run a public library in a small town: the traditional way, or the Maxine Bleiweis way.”

After praising the director for being “a vibrant tool for bringing out the best in others,” he cites her for not knowing the definition of “can’t.” Her library, he says, can be “noisy, boisterous, provocative, outrageous (and) entertaining.”

Kasanoff adds that Bleiweis’ best talent may be bringing out talents in other people. He cites these traits that we all should emulate:

Boldness: If it will benefit the library, Maxine will ask anyone to do anything. She enlists CTOs of Fortune 50 companies, top journalists, famous authors, and a huge corps of enthusiastic volunteers. Just as importantly, she always has a bold idea and a few “asks” ready; if she spots you in the library, the odds are 100 to 1 that she’ll tell you about her latest projects and how you can help.

Westport Library director Maxine Bleiweis has often enlisted the help of David Pogue. The Westport-based tech writer-video star-guru happily obliges.

Westport Library director Maxine Bleiweis has often enlisted the help of David Pogue. The Westport-based tech guru-writer-video star happily obliges.

Warmth: The Westport Library is partially funded by the town, and also depends on donations from its supporters. There’s never enough money, especially now that the library is embarking on a capital campaign to reshape the building to be much more of a gathering, social and performance space. Leaders in such an environment don’t get to bark orders. Maxine leads with warmth, charm and enthusiasm. She understands that her role is to be uplifting and aspirational.

Imagination: What if we turned the middle of the library into a Makerspace? Could we teach kids to program computers by buying two Aldebaran robots for them to program? Maxine discovered the answers to both these questions was “yes.”

The Westport Library's Makerspace has a prominent position in the midst of the Great Hall.

The Westport Library’s Makerspace has a prominent position in the Great Hall.

Kasanoff concludes:

Maxine taught an entire town not to be limited by outdated conceptions of what you or your organization is supposed to be doing. She showed an entire generation that you are limited only by your own imagination, creativity and willingness to whatever it takes to bring your dream to life.

Most importantly, she showed us what happens when people with diverse talents, abilities and interests work together to uplift a community. The answer, of course, is that magic happens.

Can You Believe: Another Westport Library National Award!

The Westport Library serves everyone. This week everyone, it seems, wants to serve it.

Hot on the heels of this morning’s announcement that director Maxine Bleiweis will receive one her profession’s highest awards comes more news: Westport is a finalist for one of the library world’s greatest honors.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services has included Westport on its list of 15 libraries vying for its National Medal. Each was chosen for its significant and exceptional contributions to its community, and its extraordinary and innovative approach to public service.

Westport joins the likes of the Brooklyn, Los Angeles and Phoenix public libraries. It was singled out for “exemplary leadership in promoting lifelong learning while engaging and inspiring the public.”

The Westport Library offers every conceivable service, from every imaginable perspective. (Photo/Dave Elgart)

The Westport Library provides every conceivable service, for every imaginable perspective. (Photo/Dave Elgart)

The Westport Library offers over 1600 programs a year. Its annual Maker Faire attracts 4,000 inventors, hobbyists, scientists, teachers and individuals. The library earned 5-star status from the Library Journal — an honor granted to less than 1% of American public libraries.

Winners will be named this spring. They’ll be honored in Washington, DC. They’ll also receive a visit from StoryCorps, the nonprofit that records and shares oral histories.

In the meantime, IMLS encourages Westport Library users to share their stories on Facebook (click here).

Stories, after all, are what the Westport Library is all about. Plus magazines, newspapers, videos, computers, art, lectures, recitals, 3D printers, robots, crossword puzzles…

Maxine Bleiweis: A Library Winner, In Every Way

When Maxine Bleiweis was young, she says, “I was not a very successful library user.” She learned through hands-on experiences, not books. And she liked to talk.

If she were a kid today, she’d thrive at the Westport Library — an institution run by the now-grown Maxine Bleiweis. It’s a place filled with noise — of chatter, programs, and the hands-on learning, exploration and invention being done in the innovative MakerSpace, smack dab in the center of the place.

When Maxine was younger too — just starting out as a library director — she was influenced by Charlie Robinson. As head of the Baltimore County system, he believed that libraries did not have to follow a “business as usual” model. Rather than assuming libraries were arbiters of community taste — deciding unilaterally which books to purchase; decreeing that users must be silent everywhere — he said, essentially, “give ‘em what they want.” Even if “they” had no idea what it was.

PLAIn June, Bleiweis receives the Charlie Robinson Award. The Public Library Association honor goes to one innovative leader, risk taker or change agent each year.

“Having my name under his on that award is pretty amazing,” Bleiweis says.

It’s also fitting. For the past 17 years, she’s been a pretty amazing director of the Westport Library.

As she prepares to leave her post — she’s “retooling” (not “retiring”) as of July 1 — she spent time recently looking back on a career she’s embraced with a gusto that may once have seen out of place, back when librarians’ main job was to tell patrons “ssshhh…”

Her innovations — the basis of that Charlie Robinson Award — stem from her philosophy that a library should know what people need from it, even before those people know it themselves.

Everyone, she says, “has a need and a right to succeed at, and be validated by, this miraculous institution: the public library.”

Maxine Bleiweis

Maxine Bleiweis

To do that, she’s “taken herself out of” the building. That’s allowed her to reimagine what it could look like, unencumbered by preconceptions and conventions. It’s enabled her to advocate for, and introduce, not only the MakerSpace but advanced technology, TED Talks, wide-ranging programs and events that draw the community together. A true joy, she says, is “watching 8-year-olds and 80-year-olds exchange ideas and information.”

A library, according to Bleiweis, is no longer just a place to get reading material. Anyone can do that anywhere. It’s a place to “debate, discuss, discover.”

Among those most memorable debates: the night Westporter Phil Donahue showed a documentary he produced on the Iraq war. A fight nearly erupted, in the SRO crowd. Bleiweis — wedged against a wall — grew worried. Finally — “in his best talk show host voice” — Donahue defused tensions by saying, “I think this is the part of the program where we all hold songs and sing ‘Kumbaya.'”

An important discussion came soon after a disastrous, alcohol-fueled Staples Homecoming. The library provided a place — “outside of school,” Bleiweis notes — to share community concerns.

Teenagers feel welcome at the Westport Public Library.

Teenagers feel welcome at the Westport Library.

As for discovery, Bleiweis recalls a panel of pioneering feminists. “They were wonderful, but at the end they looked at the audience and said, ‘We’ve done our job. What about you?'”

On the spot, a group formed. Out of that meeting came a grant proposal for a program in which college women would mentor high school girls. In turn, they would mentor middle school girls.

What ideas did not work? Bleiweis can’t think of any — because that’s not the way she measures success.

“We’re always in beta test mode, always in tryouts,” she explains. “The library doesn’t really lead. It just provides fertile ground for people to grow things. Inviting in people is more important than making sure all our i’s are dotted and our t’s are crossed.”

One of the Westport library's new robots. (Photo/Danny Ghitis for the Wall Street Journal)

One of the Westport Library’s new robots. (Photo/Danny Ghitis for the Wall Street Journal)

But, the director notes, “the more this community realizes what a library can be, the more we’re struggling with a building that was not built to facilitate that.” She is proud of the innovative role the Westport Library has played, but knows it will be increasingly difficult to continue, given the constraints of the present building.

In every institution’s life, Bleiweis says, there are junctures where decisions will be made by the person who will be there to see them through. The Westport Library, she believes, is at one of those points.

She’s put forth her vision of what the facility should look like, and how it should function. But many more decisions must be made. And — based on the demographics of her staff — many hiring decisions lie ahead.

Those are part of the reasons behind her decision to step down now. Her personal life plays a role too. Bleiweis’ mother is 98; at the same time, Bleiweis is a new grandmother. “I need a bit of flexibility in my life,” she says.

As handsome as the Westport Library is, it was not built for 21st-century technology -- or the needs of 21st-century users.

As handsome as the Westport Library is, it was not built for 21st-century technology — or the needs of 21st-century users.

Asked what she would say to her successor, Bleiweis offers: “You’re absolutely blessed with the most vibrant, thinking community anywhere. Listen hard; the answers are within the conversations you’ll hear.”

In the 4 months before she leaves, there is still plenty of work to do — and energy to harness.

Plus, of course, there’s that Charlie Robinson Award to pick up. It’s presented at the American Library Association’s annual conference, in San Francisco. That’s the last week in June — which happens to be Maxine Bleiweis’ final week as director of the Westport Library.

Talk about a storybook ending!

Tess’ Bench

The other day, I posted a few of Lynn U. Miller’s photos of the library Riverwalk, at dusk. 

I was struck by their beauty. Many “06880” readers were too. But for Suzanne Tanner, one picture was especially poignant. She wrote:

I want to thank Lynn for capturing such a profound and welcoming photo of my daughter’s memorial bench on the grounds of the Westport Public Library.

The bench was inspired by and appropriated with a memorial fund started in my daughter’s name to establish points of figural beauty in and around one of Tess’s favorite places in town — our riverfront library.

Library bench sunset - Lynn U Miller

I want to remind others how important it is to pause and reflect on all of the love that is given to us in life, be it the warmth of a child’s hand in ours or the generosity of a singular smile resonating in the crevices of time’s travel. It always pleases me to see another appreciate the beauty in the structure of the bench and the delightful setting for all to share.

A portion of Tess’s fund has been allocated to the Levitt Pavilion to continue the effort. I am currently searching for outdoor sculptures, favoring any with the essence of poetry, discovery, mythology and hummingbirds to create a Riverwalk Sculpture Garden in Tess’s honor.

If anyone has any ideas or suggestions, please contact either myself (suzannetanner@aol.com) or the Levitt (levitt@westportct.gov). I welcome the energy and opportunity to share in the journey of remembering a most delightful spirit with an inspiring path along the riverwalk.

 

Finding Beauty, Right Here At Home

Lynn U. Miller has lived in Westport most of her life. But she always finds new ways of seeing very familiar scenes.

Late Wednesday afternoon, she shot some photos near one of her favorite spots: the library. Lynn found even more serenity there than usual.

But, she says, not until she edited the images did she realize how fortunate we are to be able to spend even a few minutes of our day enjoying such peace, quiet and utter beauty.

She says: “Among all the crazy horror of Isis, the bickering politicians and horrendous train accidents, to name only a few, we get to have this…”

Amen, Lynn. And thank you.

Riverwalk winter 2015 - Lynn U Miller

Library bench sunset - Lynn U Miller

Fire and ice - Lynn U Miller

Library handrail - Lynn U Miller

(Photos/Lynn U. Miller)