It may be the library’s finest hour day week.
With thousands of Westporters powerless, the Public Library has become Westport’s community center. It’s our warming hut, meeting place, town square, movie theater, food court, bathroom — and comfort zone — all at once.
And all the time.
Earlier this morning Maxine Bleiweis — the indefatigable director — paused during her rounds of the jam-packed building to recall a few highlights of the past few days. Her own Black Rock home lacks power, so she knows what the huddled masses in every nook and cranny of her library are going through.
“Starting on Sunday, parents and teenagers have come in together — happily,” she says. “There’s a real feeling of ‘we’re all in this together.'”
Since then, patrons have availed themselves of every library service — and invented their own. Women blow dry their hair in the restroom. Men shave.
The AV Center is less popular than usual — not surprisingly, because a DVD without power is useless. Instead, people grab books — and read them right on the floor.
Others play chess or Scrabble. Westporters who haven’t seen each other in years reconnect, and share trees-in-houses-and-on-cars stories.
Children’s librarians pop in movie after movie. One of the most popular: “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.”
Custodians ventured out to buy extra power strips for patrons. A staff member brought oranges for colleagues.
Yesterday, around 4 p.m. — the moment youngsters were supposed to find out if school was canceled today — wireless usage hit its peak. Maxine was thrilled.
“I’ve never seen so many teenagers here — not even during exam time,” she marvels. “They were all over the place. It was great!”
Taking cues from their director, the staff never stops smiling. They answer the same questions over and over — “Is the cafe open?” “Can I get internet access?” “Do you have plugs?” — as pleasantly as if they’ve never heard them before.
“Years ago, I was saying libraries need to be ‘warm and wired,'” Maxine says. “Literally, that’s what we’ve been since Saturday.”
The Westport Library, she notes, is a “familiar, secure, safe, welcoming space. You can’t find that in a hotel. This is community at its best.”
(WSHU’s Craig Lemoult reported on the Westport Library’s response to the storm yesterday afternoon. Click here to listen.)