Library’s Latest Shout-Out:

Forbes may be “the capitalist tool.” But it’s got a soft spot for a certain everyone’s-equal space: the Westport Library. 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Maxine taught an entire town not to be limited by outdated conceptions of what you or your organization is supposed to be doing.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.

11 responses to “Library’s Latest Shout-Out:

  1. Curmudgeon Bobbie — I’m glad they still have the smaller reading rooms. Otherwise it would be impossible to concentrate with all the racket going on. The entrance has become a gathering place for nannies with screaming kids, sitting next to the Snack Bar. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I grew up with libraries meant for reading and studying, where even a whisper was too loud. The librarians were always shushing you. Maybe they should just get rid of the books and make it into a complete “gathering, social and performing place.” Then they wouldn’t have to bother with the capital campaign.

    I told you I was a curmudgeon.

    After reading my snarky comment, Maxine Bleiweis contacted me and invited me to meet with her. She then spent an hour of her very valuable time discussing the plans for the Library renovation. I was absolutely blown away! There will be something for everyone, all ages and all interests, together with an auditorium for movies, concerts, programs, etc. I was extremely impressed both with Maxine and with the plans, and I look forward to being one of the many people using the new Library.

  2. Bobbie, I like peace and quiet too–and there are plenty of areas around the library which have that. The library truly offers a nice mix of old and new. The Paul Newman/Joanne Woodward Reading Room, in particular, provides a very comfortable, quiet space with excellent natural light and views that surpasses any space in the old-fashioned library many of us grew up with on the Post Road (situated in the building that houses Starbucks),

  3. While I applaud Maxine’s innovation, I also feel that the library has changed and maybe at a rate that is too fast for that those who actually like the feel of a good book between their fingers. It seems that the collection is shrinking (check out all of the empty space on the shelves on the mezzanine and in the reference section) and that stacks are being removed for community space. The libraries current policy of discarding any book that has not been borrowed in two years also leaves much to be desired. It also makes one wonder what happens to all of the books that are enjoyed by people at the library but rarely checked out…large format art books are just one example that comes to mind. Two years…barely gives a book a chance…no wonder there are three book sales a year.

    • Jamie, are you sure about that two-year policy? I am pretty certain I have seen a number of books that haven’t been checked out in years (but are certainly worthy of staying on the shelves),

  4. The future can be a real pain. But organizations that can’t stitch together past, present and future are done, finished. Maxine, I think, knows how to do that.

  5. I, too, am surprised at how noisy libraries have become. I am not sure if it is good or bad, but of this I am certain. Libraries have grown into vibrant community centers focused on learning and creativity in whatever form they take. We frequent the Wilton Library and have expanded our world through their programs. If the purpose of libraries is to foster learning, our local libraries have raised the bar.

  6. Jocelyn Barandiaran

    A public library is many different things to many different people, and at different stages of their lives. At their best, libraries are both a safe and peaceful sanctuary, and a place that fosters lifelong learning, community (and world) engagement and the lively exchange of ideas. As a Library Trustee, and based on the comments above, I would like to think the Library is advancing all of these goals. As we head to the Library’s next transformation for the 21st century, we need to hear more about what the community wants and expects from its library. To that end, I hope that you will all attend one of the Library’s upcoming Community Conversations about the future of the Library, on Sunday March 29 at 4pm, and Monday April 27th at 7pm. We want to hear more from you.

  7. Morley Boyd

    Many thoughtful and insightful comments…At the risk of being branded a future-denier and set afloat on the Saugatuck, I, too have noticed the loss of what was once a collection of art books that was the envy of the entire state. I believe Mr. Walsh is correct about the two-years-and-off-with-its-head policy – which is unfortunate when it comes to large art books. Most people, I think, opt to simply view these at the library rather than wrestle them into their cars. Although the damage has been done (some of the most prized aspects of the collection have been disposed of) perhaps the policy deserves to be revisited.

  8. Maxine Bleiweis

    Jamie and Morley, for the record, there is no such two year policy. Every item is selected on its individual merits and deselected on its individual merits. It’s part art/part science and taken very seriously with current use in mind. I’m happy to speak more on the topic one on one.

  9. Jamie Walsh

    Maxine, thank you for clarifying library policy. On a recent visit one of the librarians told me that if a book hasn’t been borrowed in two years it is discarded. This coupled with the empty shelves on the mezzanine and in what used to be the reference section make it feel like the collection, is in fact, shrinking. There is no doubt that the Westport Library, under your leadership, has become a vibrant community gathering point but to many members of the community it is our library which by definition is, “a collection of books belonging to a private person or to a public institution, etc.” or “a whole building appropriated to the keeping of a collection of books.” Just my .2 cents (actually make it my .45 cents as that is what our household currently owes you in overdue fees)…

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