Loving The Library

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.

Maxine Bleiweis smiles, while hosting thousands of displaced Westporters.

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.

Stacey Landowne, daughter Claudia and son Will -- armed with laptops, books, food and coffee -- settle in for Day 3 at the library.

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.)

7 responses to “Loving The Library

  1. Great story, Dan! My first library job was at WPL, four years ago. They were a great bunch to work with then, and I’m not at all surprised that they met this challenge with smiles and open arms.

  2. Debbie Solomon

    Thank you Westport Library for being my home away from home for the last 4 days! It was great seeing people I haven’t seen for years!

  3. I was able to access my e-mail from the periodicals room at the library on Tuesday and learned that a book was on hold for me. Checked out the book, went home, found a patch of sunlight on our porch and started the book. Thank you staff of the library. And may the community spirit continue!

  4. Whether it’s housing the powerless or talking about teas, libraries have become the new community centers. Long live libraries!

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  6. This is a library at its finest hour. Everyone can be proud of their library stepping up to the plate and serving their patrons and community!

  7. Linda Gramatky Smith

    My husband, Ken, and I had just been at a fantastic coffee at the McManuses’ home on Friday to hear Maxine Bleiweis and Cindy Clark describe the possibility of a renovated library that will bring us all into the 21st century and beyond. And the central theme was that libraries are now the COMMUNITY CENTER that towns like Westport don’t have anywhere else. And our being out of power for 4 days and being able to go to the Library certainly proved that.

    I was able to get the Class of Staples `60 website up and running thanks to the library’s computers, and I too saw so many friends hanging out at the WARM library!

    When you start to read about the wonderful new design of an expanded library, please be sure to find out what possibilities are ahead so that we can remain one of the best libraries in New England!