Once upon a time, the Westport Library was only about books. (And — because so many artists and illustrators lived here — a noted collection of prints too.)
In the 1980s, the Library began offering DVD. Purists howled. “That’s Blockbuster’s job!” they said. (Of course, you can’t beat free. Naysayers soon became some of the biggest patrons. And where is Blockbuster today?*)
Then came the MakerSpace. Prime main floor real estate was given over to computers, tools and a first-of-its-kind 3D printer. The noise level rose. So did user engagement.
Today the Westport Library offers many things. There are still tons of books; still DVDs (and CDs and vinyl); still a Maker Space; . Plus cutting-edge TV and audio studios; a 19-foot state-of-the-art screen, and equally killer sound system; a store, café and more.
Plus a “Library of Things.”
It’s not the most elegant name. But there may be no better way to describe all the “things” the Library lends.
The Library of Things is found along the right-side (upper parking lot) wall, on the main floor. Extending from near the entrance all the way to Verso Studios (interrupted only by restrooms), it’s shelf after shelf of stuff to check out.
Sewing machines, battery testers, puzzles and games, metal detectors, waterproof speakers, bubble makers, a 45-cup coffee urn, ukuleles, phone and car chargers, a Hello Kitty cake pan, CD players, Zoom ring lights, MIDI-controlled keyboard, button makers, smartphone lens kits, golf range finder, SAD therapy lights, field microphones, portable projectors, a Nintendo Switch — they’re all there.
A kayak, cornhole games and disc golf sets are not there. They’re too big. But they’re available too.
And every one of those “things” is free. All you need is a library card.
Sign your thing out, and keep it for 10 days. (21 if it’s something like a sewing machine or ukulele, helping you learn a skill.)
Who wants to check out a thing?
Families who need a projector for an outdoor movie. Bands making buttons for an upcoming tour. Someone seeking hidden metal treasures at Compo or Sherwood Island. People creating their first videos. A person who bought a new car without a CD player, finishing an audiobook. Grandparents whose grandchildren will be visiting soon.
Folks are “stunned” when they realize all that’s hidden in plain sight, says Kathleen Malloy, the Library’s manager of patron experiences.
Available items are right there on the shelves. (Except for that kayak and those outdoor lawn games.) Things that have been checked out — and all the high-tech Verso things — are represented by photos.
A walk along the Library of Things is like going to an all-you-can-eat buffet — with every cuisine, each one next to another in random order. You’ll find things you never you needed or wanted, things you never knew existed, and things a friend would love (if they only knew it was here).
People have found the Library of Things through word of mouth (and a mention in the Library’s monthly publication).
Once they find it, users come back. And they offer idea. Many new items come from patrons’ suggestions.
Westporters have always loved our library. But it’s hard to imagine someone in 1908, or 1958 — or even 2008 — saying, “Excuse me. Can I check out a kayak today?”
Today, it’s the thing to do.
*In Westport, it’s a Hartford HealthCare center.
(Like the Westport Library, “06880” relies on community support. Please click here to help.)