Category Archives: Library

Unsung Heroes #57

Last week’s Westport Library Book Sale went off without a hitch.

Thousands of visitors bought tens of thousands of books. And CDs, DVDs, even LPs.

The library earned thousands of dollars. Even yesterday — when everything was free (contributions gladly accepted!) — the library earned something just as important: grateful good will.

One scene from last weekend’s Book Sale.

But as easy as it all seemed — hundreds of volunteers hauling boxes, posting signs, pointing patrons in the right direction, smilingly totaling up purchases, answering idiotic questions (“Do you have …?”), handling setup, security and cleanup; volumes sorted superbly into categories from Art to Zoology; no problems despite the loss of the library space itself during the Transformation process — none of it would be possible without a few great leaders.

Mimi Greenlee and Dick Lowenstein are the Book Sale co-chairs.

Suzy Hooper and Heli Stagg have full-time library roles, in addition to their Book Sale duties.

They lead with inspiration — and by example. They give new (and literal) meaning to the phrase “heavy lifting.”

This is not the only Westport Library Book sale, either. There are others, in winter and spring. None would happen without the many volunteers — and these 4 at the helm.

(From left) Heli Stagg, Suzy Hooper, Mimi Greenlee and Dick Lowenstein yesterday. They don’t even look tired! (Photo/John Karrel)

We hope Mimi, Dick, Suzy and Heli enjoy being this week’s Unsung Heroes.

But they probably won’t see it. They’re finishing up last weekend’s book sale.

And starting work on the next.

(Hat tip: John Karrel. Want to nominate an Unsung Hero? email dwoog@optonline.net)

And The Worst Sign In Town Is …

Last week, “06880” reported on Planning and Zoning’s enforcement of the town’s longstanding ordinance against temporary signs.

The removal of dozens of placards — promoting everything from the Library book sale to (ironically) junk removal — drew dozens of comments.

It’s about time! praised some.

Governmental overreach! howled others.

Predictably, the discussion veered away from the direct topic at hand. Eric Bosch noted that there are 309 permanent signs at Compo Beach alone.

Chris Woods suggested that people send in photos of the “worst” signs in town.

Great idea! 

Here’s mine, from Wilton Road:

Hey — this is Westport! Every place here has a school bus stop ahead.

Besides, have you ever seen this sign flashing? How would that even work? Do school buses have a special method to switch on these lights?

That’s my worst/least favorite/most annoying sign (though there are many contenders). What’s yours?

Email photos to dwoog@optonline.net. And let us know exactly why that particular sign is worse than all the others.

Abstract Irony

Alert “06880” reader — and ace photographer — JP Vellotti sent me this shot, from the weekend’s Fine Arts Festival. He calls it “Abstract Irony.”

(Photo/JP Vellotti)

It took me a few seconds to figure out why he gave it that title.

When I realized the reason, it fit perfectly.

If you catch the irony in JP’s image, click “Comments” below.

Meanwhile, kudos to the Westport Downtown Merchants Association for this year’s 45th annual event.

Over 180 exhibitors in charcoal, watercolor, pastel, pencil, ink, photography, digital art, sculpture, printmaking, mixed media, glass, ceramics, jewelry and wood filled Main Street, Elm Street and Church Lane.

Live music, special performances, children’s activities, food and non-profit groups’ exhibits added to the flair.

Around the corner, the Westport Library‘s annual book sale drew plenty of bargain hunters (some of whom were also paying serious prices for art).

The book (and CD) (and DVD) (and more) sale continues tomorrow (Monday, July 16, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., half price day) and Tuesday (9 a.m. to 1 p.m., everything free but contributions gladly accepted).

It was a great weekend to be downtown.

And I say that without any irony whatsoever.

Friday Flashback #99

At first glance, this photo looks unremarkable.

Fred Cantor took it in 1977, he thinks — during the Great Race. That was the fun, funny and often alcohol-infused event in which people dressed in costumes, created their own vessels, ran from Taylor Place to the river, jumped in their watercraft, raced out to Cockenoe Island, filled a bag with garbage (the cheaters already carried pre-packed trash), then rowed or sailed or whatever-ed back to shore.

Meanwhile, Main Street merchants held sales. This was the scene outside Remarkable Book Shop. The stalls were always outside, but on this day they attracted huge crowds.

(Photo/Fred Cantor)

The Great Race is (regrettably) long gone. But this weekend the Fine Arts Festival returns to Main Street. It’s a great show.

Unfortunately, few Remarkable-type stores anymore offer something else to all those art-lovers (though Savvy + Grace is worth a trip from anywhere).

Also this weekend, the Westport Library hosts its 26th annual Book Sale. Those squintillions of volumes make this Remarkable scene look, well, unremarkable. But whenever and wherever people buy books, it’s a good thing.

Finally, this Friday Flashback raises the question: Now that Remarkable Book Shop is gone — and Talbots too is a long-ago memory too — will anything ever take their place?

P&Z Signs Off: The Sequel

I was busy this afternoon, posting a story about the Planning & Zoning Department’s decision to remove all illegal signs from town-owned property.

Chip Stephens and Al Gratrix were busy too.

They did the actual removal.

The P&Z Commissioners — call them the “De-Signers” — uprooted several dozen offending placards, all over town. Many were in otherwise handsome traffic islands and gardens, like those at the eastern end of the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Post Road bridge. (Regulations concerning such signs have been in place since at least 2002.)

A small bit of Chip Stephens and Al Gratrix’s haul.

They’re not finished.

Every illegal sign — even those for beloved institutions like the Westport Library book sale — is fair game, Chip says.

(Photos/Chip Stephens)

Westport’s streetscape is changing. The signs are everywhere.

 

Pic Of The Day #438

 

Reading on the Library Riverwalk (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Justin Paul Wows “Booked” Crowd

During its first 19 years, the Westport Library’s “Booked for the Evening” fundraising event has included many A-list names.

Tom Brokaw, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Alan Alda imparted wisdom to sold-out crowds.

Patti Smith and Nile Rodgers entertained them.

But “Booked” has never seen — or heard — anyone quite like the 20th honoree.

Justin Paul — the Oscar, Grammy and Tony Award-winning, white-hot songwriting star and proud Westport native — kicked the Library’s signature evening into the stratosphere last night.

The 2003 Staples High School graduate thrilled, inspired and paid homage to a crowd of 500 at Rolling Hills Country Club. (The library was unavailable, due to its ongoing Transformation project.)

Weaving together 2 themes — the importance of libraries (especially Westport’s), and his hometown’s longtime embrace of arts education — Paul was visibly moved by his “Booked” honor.

The Westport Library, he said, “nurtured my love of learning, and enhanced my understanding of the world. It’s a hopeful and beautiful place.”

Justin Paul entertained and inspired last night’s “Booked for the Evening” crowd.

Teachers like Ben Frimmer showed the “left out” middle schooler who he could really be. At Staples, Alice Lipson, David Roth and others helped him find his voice, and his life’s work.

He also cited influences from Long Lots Elementary School, Music Theatre of Connecticut, and Chris Coogan.

Of course, he’s still quite young. After videos of his life, and tributes from the likes of Hugh Jackman filled the screen, Paul joked about watching “the retrospective of a 33-year-old. Not a lot of people have their grandmother at their lifetime achievement award.”

Paul acknowledged that not everyone grows up in a town like Westport. He urged the audience to pay attention — and provide resources — to youngsters in the many places that do not provide the opportunities, and access to the arts, that his hometown does.

He then launched into 3 of his best-loved, and most meaningful, compositions: “For Forever” from “Dear Evan Hansen,” “City of Stars” (“La La Land”), and “This Is Me” (“The Greatest Showman”).

Paul — who, with his songwriting partner Benj Pasek writes beautiful, hopeful music for stage and screen — is admired by countless fans, young and old, around the globe.

But he’s a special hero to Staples students. Two generations — recent college graduates and current performing stars Mia Gentile, Tyler Jent and Michelle Pauker, along with today’s Orphenians — joined Paul on stage.

The mood was joyful. But the “Booked for the Evening” star wore the biggest smile of all.

Justin Paul at the piano, with fellow Staples graduates and current student stars.

BONUS REELMark Platt, the producer of “La La Land,” was one of the many big names appearing on video. He made a special announcement: He’s funding a new recording studio, now under construction at the Westport Library.

It will be named for Justin Paul.

Pics Of The Day #416

Natalie Kroft says: “The other evening, my family and I went for a walk around the neighborhood. We came across this ‘Little Free Library’ on a side street off Imperial Avenue, so neighbors can share books and magazines with each other.

“It was complete with free doggie treats and water bowl. Next to the post was also a wooded bench for readers to take a seat if they please.

“I never knew these existed. But I love the idea. It’s just another reason to show how wonderful our Westport neighbors are!”

Library Reopens Tomorrow. You’ll Love What You See!

Phase I of the Westport Library‘s Transformation Project is complete.

When the lower level reopens tomorrow — after a 12-day hiatus to move books from the upper level, and finish the massive construction job — patrons will note a difference that’s night and day.

Almost literally.

The dark, poorly laid out Riverwalk level has been completely redesigned. It’s light, airy, dynamic and interactive. Inside and out work together, inviting everyone to explore, relax, work together or alone, or simply enjoy the river and trees.

Here’s a preview, courtesy of superb photographer — and longtime Westport Library lover — Lynn Untermeyer Miller.

Henry Myerberg of HMA2 Architects has cleverly integrated the exterior and interior. The “porthole” above, for example, honors the riverside location, while subtly reminding users of the library’s logo and color scheme.

Large windows replace the lower walkway that led past the old video collection and offices. As you walk to the new entrance, you see action inside.

Indigenous vegetation and new pathways lead to the lower entrance.

The new entrance that says “WEST” faces west …

… and “PORT” as it faces the river. Westport Library director Bill Harmer admires new plantings just out of the frame.

Here’s one of the reading nooks. Formerly staff offices, they’ve been reimagined completely. Globe lamps mirror those on the riverwalk outside.

Stacks have been moved downstairs. But — like Manhattanhenge, where a few times a year you see the sun set directly at the end of every avenue — there are stunning views from all aisles. Each table has many outlets to recharge devices.

The children’s section moves temporarily downstairs, until the upstairs renovation is done. Special chairs — with words like “Make” and “Read” — are part of the new attractions.

Also housed temporarily in the Riverwalk level: a program room, the Maker Space and cafe.

Still under construction: a “grand staircase,” leading to another entrance (upper left). It will bring patrons into the upper level, near where the teen section used to be. The staircase will also serve as terraced seating: a place to meet, or enjoy the panoramic view of Jesup Green and the river.

The plaza at the bottom of the grand staircase can function as a program space too. Benches at the bottom will be lit at night. There are even outlets to recharge devices, 24/7. Meanwhile, the design of the pavers is meant to evoke the spines of books …

… which is echoed in the tiles on the walls of the new bathrooms. Designers of the “new” Westport Library have thought of everything.

Especially what it means to be a library in Westport in the 21st century.

(NOTE: The Riverwalk level will function as the “interim library” while construction begins upstairs, on Phase II. The project is on schedule — and on budget — for final completion next June. Hat tip: Lynn Untermeyer Miller.)

Justin Paul Is Booked In Westport

When Justin Paul was a Staples High School student, he played piano for the Westport Library’s signature Booked for the Evening fundraiser.

The Class of 2003 graduate returns to the event this year.

This time though, he’s not the entertainment.

He’s the honoree.

Justin Paul

Paul — the Oscar, Grammy, Tony and Golden Globe Award-winning songwriter whose collaboration with Benj Pasek includes “Dear Evan Hansen,” “La La Land,” “The Greatest Showman,” “A Christmas Story,” “Dogfight” and “James and the Giant Peach” — joins the likes of Tom Brokaw, E.L. Doctorow, Pete Hamill, Martin Scorsese, Doris Kearns Goodwin, David Halberstam, Patti Smith, Alan Alda and fellow Westporters Nile Rodgers and Lynsey Addario as “Booked” recipients.

Not bad for a 33-year-old.

Paul admits that he doesn’t have the “life experiences” of honorees. But he’s got plenty of riveting acccomplishments.

And he knows the Westport Library well.

“Growing up, it was a constant in my life,” Paul says. “I went there to research school projects, to find new books to read, and everything else. It’s a cornerstone of Westport.”

In middle school, going downtown by himself to the library made him feel “very adult, very cool.”

The CD and DVD collections helped him on his career path. “I think they subtly encouraged my exploration of music, movies and plays,” he says.

Another library — the music one at the University of Michigan — played an important role in Paul’s life too.

“I spent a healthy percentage of time there,” he recalls. “They had scores of every classical piece, and every Broadway musical. It completely fed my hunger and curiosity.”

Justin Paul and Benj Pasek, at January’s Golden Globe Awards. (Photo/Paul Drinkwater NBC)

When Paul and Pasek began their songwriting careers, librarians would request official copies of their work.

“We always said yes,” Paul notes. “As 23-year-0lds, hearing from a librarian made us feel very grown up.”

A lot has happened in the decade since. And it’s been only a decade and a half since Paul went from playing piano at Booked for the Evening, to the main event.

What will he talk about on June 11?

“I could fill an hour just listing all the Westport influences on my life,” he jokes.

“But the library is all about story-telling. That’s what Benj and I do. So it will probably have something to do with stories.”

Book it!

(“Booked for the Evening” is set for Monday, June 11, 7 p.m. at Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton. For tickets and sponsorship information, click here.)