Category Archives: Library

Library Book Sales: A Bold New Venture

The Westport Library book sales are a wonderful Westport tradition.

Every July — and, in a smaller form, spring — thousands of book-lovers find countless treasures. And it’s not only books (in every category imaginable). CDs, DVDs, even sheet music are also on sale.

After more than 2 decades, the sales are taking a new step forward. Today the library announced the launch of Westport Book Sale Ventures.

The new entity has a dual mission: raising funds to support the library, while providing meaningful employment for adults with disabilities.

Starting next month, the Westport Library book sales will be operated by Westport Book Sale Ventures, Inc. — an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit.

A typical summer Westport Library Book Sale scene.

“The book sales are a beloved community tradition that provide essential support for Library programming,” says executive director Bill Harmer. “The sales are powered by a dedicated team of volunteers, and tens of thousands of book donations from our generous community.

“Facilitating meaningful employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities is squarely aligned with the Library’s mission to strengthen our community, motivate engagement and serve diverse constituencies, and we are incredibly proud to launch this new initiative.”

The new venture is coordinated by Jocelyn Barandiaran, Sharuna Mahesh and Linda Monteiro-Hopper, Westport residents with a passion for the Library and the expanded book sale mission.

Mimi Greenlee and Dick Lowenstein — who have led book sales for 2 decades — will provide guidance.

Dick Lowenstein, Mimi Greenlee and Suzy Hooper — longtime Book Sale stalwarts. (Photo/John Karrel)

Barandiaran notes, “The unemployment rate for Americans with disabilities is twice as high as the rate for people with no disabilities. For many young adults with disabilities there is a significant gap following high school, when individuals no longer have the support of the public education system’s transition services, and their social networks disburse.

“We hope this new venture will provide transferable job skills and opportunities for community engagement, and motivate our community and our businesses to be ever more inclusive of people with disabilities.”

The Annex, which was installed in the upper lot to receive book donations, will continue to function in the same way. Donations may be made at any time during the Library’s operating hours.

The first Book Sale Event managed by the new venture is set for Friday, March 13 through Sunday, March 15, in the Library Forum of the Westport Library. To learn more about Westport Book Sale Ventures, click here.

“Vagina Monologues” Comes To Town

It began as casual conversations with friends. Soon Eve Ensler began talking with women she did not know. Eventually she spoke with 200 of them.

Their discussions about sex and relationships often turned to the topic of violence against women. The project — which Ensler had envisioned as a celebration of vaginas and femininity — became a crusade to stop that violence.

Since its off-Broadway debut in 1996, “The Vagina Monologues” — which explores consensual and nonconsensual sexual experiences, body image, genital mutilation, sex work and other topics through the eyes of women of various ages, races and sexualities — has become one of the most impactful plays of our time.

It also sparked the V-Day Movement, a global non-profit aimed at ending violence against women and girls.

“The Vagina Monologues” forms the cornerstone of the movement. Benefit performances take place worldwide each year between February and April. All  must stick to an annual script that V-Day puts out.

Performances benefit rape crisis centers, shelters for women and similar resources. So far, they’ve raised over $120 million.

This year, Westport Library has been chosen to produce a V-Day event. Beneficiaries are the Center for Family Justice and the Rowan Center sexual assault agency. Many cast members are Westport residents.

Set for Friday, February 21, the event begins with a 6:30 p.m. cocktail reception. The performance will be followed by a conversation between the cast and audience, about themes and issues brought up in the play.

The suggested donation is $20. However, all donation levels are accepted (and appreciated). For tickets, click here.

Persona Of The Week: Nancy Wyman

The Westport Library’s Forum is quickly becoming the place to be seen — and see some very intriguing folks.

CBS correspondent/podcaster/author Mo Rocca was there the other night. This evening, Titanic discover/undersea explorer Dr. Robert Ballard comes to town.

On Monday evening, Nancy Wyman was the featured guest. In the midst of a chaotic political week, the head of the state Democratic Party spoke to Westporter Rob Simmelkjaer about national and Connecticut issues.

It was the first in a series of live interviews at the Library. On Monday, February 24 (6 p.m.), former ESPN anchor Lindsay Czarniak and fellow Westporter Marysol Castro, the in-stadium voice of the New York Mets, talk about their careers in journalism.

Click below for the Nancy Wyman interview:

Nancy Wyman Inaugurates Library “Persona” Series

This fall, Persona introduced Westporters to local political candidates.

Now it will connect leaders from around the state with the world. But there’s still a Westport hook.

Starting Monday (February 10, 6 p.m.), the social media/interview platform — founded right here, by Westporter Rob Simmelkjaer — will host a new, free series at the Library forum. The public can watch Connecticut leaders in business, politics, journalism, sports and more talk abut their lives and careers.

Nancy Wyman

The first interview is with Nancy Wyman. The chair of the Connecticut Democratic Party and former lieutenant governor will discuss state and national elections.

Simmelkjaer is a former ESPN, ABC News and NBC Sports executive and journalist.

In other words: the perfect “persona” to introduce the new library series, and interview this statewide figure.

Photo Challenge #266

The snow in Kathleen Motes Bennewitz’s image last week made it hard to figure out exactly what the Photo Challenge showed. (Click here to see.)

But not so hard that Andrew Colabella, Seth Schachter, Lynn Untermeyer Miller, Amy Schneider, Arthur Hayes, Mousumi Ghosh, Sean Doyle and Peter Barlow didn’t know the answer.

It was the big, abstract steel sculpture, created between 1976 and ’81 by Charles Ginnever titled “Charities.” It sits on Jesup Green, near the new entrance to the Westport Library by the Taylor parking lot.

According to Ann Chernow and Miggs Burroughs, writing in the Westport News’ “Art Town” column, it was donated to the town in 1996 by a friend of Ginnever,

It was originally placed in Winslow Park, facing the Post Road. The next year it was moved to Jesup Green.

It’s been there ever since, framing the library and serving as an inviting spot for kids to scamper on.

And for snow to collect.

This week’s Photo Challenge is easy to identify — for longtime Westporters, anyway. It’s the lighthouse that for decades stood between the marina and pool entrance at Longshore (near where the pavilion and snack bar are now).

So that’s not the challenge. What we want to know is: Where does this painting hang today?

That’s a question that any Westporter — no matter how recently you moved here — might be able to answer.

If you know, click “Comments” below.

Pics Of The Day #1020

The Westport Library was quieter than usual today — some of the time.

The 21st annual Crossword Puzzle Contest drew a record 130-plus cruciverbalists, from as far as Pittsburgh and Illinois. 

A small portion of the 130-plus puzzlers.

Led by New York Times puzzle editor Will Shortz — the host and grandmaster for all 21 years — the contestants tackled 3 crosswords. 

That was the quiet part. During breaks, there were loud, animated conversations — about puzzles, the genius of Will Shortz, and life. 

The judges at work.

After those preliminary rounds, the finalists took the stage. Glenn Ryan of Norwich dethroned defending champion Ken Stern, finishing a “Friday puzzle” without a mistake in a blazing 4 minutes, 50 seconds.

Finalists,just minutes after the championship round began.

He won a book about the origins of words — and an hour test drive in a Maserati, courtesy of the Westport dealer.

From left: finalists Ken Stern, Jesse Lansner and champion Glenn Ryan, with Westport Library executive director  Bill Harmer and New York Times puzzle editor Will Shortz.

That may the only thing faster than Glenn.

Not to brag, but — well, okay, a little. (Photos/Dan Woog)

 

WestportREADS: Library Celebrates 100 Years Of Women’s Suffrage

The United States has never had a female president.

Then again, 101 years ago women were not allowed to vote.

As the nation celebrates the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment — women’s suffrage was ratified in 1920 — the Westport Library joins in. A year-long series of events looks back on that then-controversial decision.

They’ll also examine the current voting landscape. A century after half the country finally joined participatory democracy, our country grapples with issues like voter suppression, and the security of our ballots.

The library’s programs are part of its first-ever year-long WestportREADS initiative. Formerly a one-month event, it’s now expanded into a full campaign: “Westport Suffragists — Our Neighbors, Our Crusaders.”

More than a year ago, Westporters Lucy Johnson and Marcia Falk asked  director Bill Harmer if the library could note the upcoming 19th Amendment anniversary.

He embraced the idea, and suggested it fall under the WestportREADS umbrella. The program encourages the entire community to read the same book, and organizes events around that theme.

Last fall’s kickoff featured journalist Elaine Weiss. She discussed her book “The Woman’s Hour,” a riveting account of the far-harder-than-it-should-have-been political and social drive to pass the amendment.

The next book event focuses on fiction. On Tuesday, March 3 (7 p.m.), Kate Walbert welcomes Women’s History Month with a discussion of “A Short History of Women.”

Her novel explores the ripples of the suffrage movement through one family, starting in 1914 at the deathbed of suffragist Dorothy Townsend. It follows her daughter, watches her niece choose a more conventional path, and completes the family portrait with a great-granddaughter in post-9/11 Manhattan.

The battle for suffrage was long and hard.

But that’s only part of the WestportREADS schedule.

Here are just a few other events:

  • The League of Women Voters tells its story (February 9, 1:30 p.m., Westport Woman’s Club)
  • “Battle of the Sexes” video, about the groundbreaking tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs (February 18, 2 p.m., Westport Library Komansky Room)
  • Opening reception for an exhibit on Westport women central to the suffrage movement (March 6, 6 p.m., Westport Library Sheffer Room)
  • Talk about Lillian Wald, social activist and founder of the Henry Street Settlement who retired to Westport (March 18, 7 p.m., Westport Library Forum).

Lillian Wald: social justice warrior, and Westporter.

Authors, historians and journalists will present other panels and exhibits through August. That month — marking final ratification of the 19th Amendment (you go, Tennessee!) — WestportREADS sponsors a final, big program. Details will be announced soon.

Working on this project has been enlightening, Johnson says.

“The fight for suffrage began long before the 20th century,” she notes. “It took a long time. But without television, the internet or social media — through sheer will and determination, with marches and lobbying, state by state — people got it done. It was an amazing feat.”

The library has partnered with the League of Women Voters. Representatives will be at every event, to enroll new voters.

All women are encouraged to register.

All men, too.

(For more information on the “Westport Suffragists” WestportREADS program, click here.)

Here’s The State Of Westport

The state of the town is strong.

The state of our schools is too.

Those verdicts were delivered by 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Board of Education chair Candice Savin yesterday.

A large, inquisitive crowd packed the Westport Library. The 3rd annual State of the Town meeting was sponsored by our 2 Rotary Clubs.

Marpe began by citing 2 newly improved facilities: the library itself, and the Senior Center.

He also mentioned that Westport has the highest life expectancy in Connecticut, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Our neighborhood averages range from 82 years all the way to 89 (Old Hill area). Who knew?!

1st Selectman Jim Marpe, at yesterday’s “State of the Town” meeting.

Among the 2019 accomplishments, Marpe pointed to:

  • New accessibility projects at Compo beach, and environmentally friendly turf fields
  • Wakeman Town Farm improvements
  • Sasco Brook’s de-listing from the state register of impaired waterways
  • The town’s new mobile-friendly website
  • The Police Department’s innovative technology and equipment, including increased capability to respond in a crisis, and the groundbreaking Tesla 3 patrol car
  • Improvement projects at our 2 railroad stations
  • A 7% decline in Fire Department 911 calls, in large part due to proactive efforts in schools and the construction industry

The Westport Fire Department has made a determined effort to educate Westporters about fire safety.

  • Ongoing investments to upgrade commercial properties downtown and on the Post Road
  • 3rd Selectwoman Melissa Kane’s leadership of improved town wayfinding
  • 2nd Selectwoman Jen Tooker’s leadership of the “Westport Means Business” series
  • Commitment to be a NetZero community by 2050; rebranding “Sustainable Westport”; the RTM’s legislation on replacing single-use plastics; adding new solar energy capacity; switching 1,300 street lights to LED bulbs, and a “Zero Food Waste Challenge,” which includes a free pilot program for dropping off food waste at the transfer station (beginning April 1).
  • Consolidation of police, fire and EMS public safety dispatch centers with Fairfield
  • Automating building and land use processes with the Planning & Zoning, Building, Conservation, Public Works, Health District and Fire departments.

Building in Westport is becoming easier, with enhanced communication among town bodies. (Photo/Jaime Bairaktaris)

Of course, there are challenges. Marpe mentioned:

  • Traffic. He, the police and Public Works are scheduling RTM district public meetings to identify practical, realistic solutions.
  • Affordable housing. We have 3 years left on our moratorium under the 8-30g state statute.
  • The need to enhance Longshore, and other town facilities
  • Keeping the tax mill rate flat, as it has been for about 5 years. Marpe noted that financial reserves are at or ahead of “our conservative targets,” and that pension and post-employment benefit assets are “very well-funded.”

Marpe concluded his prepared remarks by noting:

Westport is and will continue to be among the most attractive towns in the tri-state area to raise a family, educate children, create and grow a business, and retire.

We are a truly rare and wonderful combination of a small, charming New England town committed to celebrating our past and preserving our history, and also a cutting-edge community that fosters innovation, creativity and progress.

Westport preserves its past and looks to the future, says 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. (Photo/John Videler for VIdeler Photography)

Board of Ed chair Savin said that the Westport School District is “strong, and getting stronger,” in areas like academics, arts, special education and athletics.

She noted the district’s focus on social and emotional health, safety and security — and combating vaping.

Among the challenges: reopening Coleytown Middle School, the budget, and the search for a new schools superintendent.

She said the board and community must “continue to invest in students, professionals and infrastructure.”

Board of Education chair Candice Savin’s presentation included slides like these, showing renovations to Coleytown Middle School.

Moderator Jeff Wieser then read questions from audience members.

Marpe was asked about his biggest budgetary challenge. “The capital forecast — school and town projects,” he said.

Regarding empty storefronts on Main Street, he pointed to new businesses coming in, along with “mom and mom” stores owned by local residents. He noted that the P&Z wants to improve efficiencies of town processes, and praised Regency Centers — owners of several large Westport shopping areas — for recent upgrades of their properties.

Marpe also said that the Downtown Merchants Association and Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce are working hard to attract new businesses.

Asked about the relationship with the Westport Museum for History & Culture, the 1st selectman said that the town no longer stores records there, eliminating a $7,500 storage fee. He said that although this year the town helped fund the Museum’s First Light celebration, he was “troubled” when he realized some of the money went toward employees’ salaries.

“We are working with them to recover that portion” of the funds, he said.

However, Marpe added, “the tone of a lot of comments (on ‘06880’) were not what Westport is about. It was like cyber-bullying. I appeal to residents to step back. You’re talking about people who live down the street from you.”

Regarding traffic, Marpe said the most significant impact comes from Waze. He acknowledged frustration with timing of Post Road lights, and said the town is in “regular communication” with the state Department of Transportation.

When the highways get crowed, Waze sends drivers through Westport.

As for Joey’s at the Shore, Marpe described the town’s 30-year relationship with the former beach concessionaire. He said they parted ways “without hard feelings.” An RFP has been issued for Compo, the skating rink/pool and golf course halfway house.

Seven or eight “well qualified” responses have been received. Bids will be open this week, and Marpe is optimistic that the new concessionaire will continue Joey Romeo’s “warmth, style, sensitivity and food.” He warned though that it may not be “fully operational” by the start of beach season.

In response to Board of Ed questions, Savin said that there are contingency plans in case CMS is not ready to reopen next fall; that pushing school start times back 30 minutes for all schools will be on the February 3 and February 10 agendas, and that declining enrollment is more challenging at the middle school level (because of the team approach) than in elementary schools and Staples High.

When the meeting was over, the town officials were not through. Members of the audience continued to ask questions. Marpe and Savin kept answering them.

TEAM Westport Teen Essay Contest Tackles Stereotypes

For 6 years, TEAM Westport’s Teen Diversity Essay Contest has considered specific, newsworthy topics.

Westport students have been asked to consider — and write on — issues like micro-aggressions, the “taking a knee” controversy, white privilege, Black Lives Matter, the increasingly diverse demographics of the United States, and self-segregation in school cafeterias.

This year, the town’s diversity action committee takes a different tack.

The 2020 contest asks teenagers to address a broad — but very important — theme: stereotypes.

TEAM Westport says:

A stereotype is a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a person, frequently based on that person’s race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or gender-identity. Stereotypes are often unconscious and may be introduced and reinforced — intentionally or unwittingly – by many sources, including family, peers, the popular media, curricula, and society at large.

This year’s challenge states: In 1,000 words or fewer, describe your experiences witnessing, delivering, and/or being subjected to stereotypes focused on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity, and describe the impact that such experiences are likely to have upon recipients. Consider steps that organizations, schools, and/or individuals could take to counteract stereotypes—whether as initiator, recipient or witness.”

“In order to dismantle bias, it’s important to first understand the factors that build bias,” says TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey.

“Stereotyping is a first step toward bias in what historians and sociologists call ‘othering’ — behavior that places the stereotyped group outside the normal considerations of society. History has proven that this can lead to dangerously impactful results.”

The entry deadline is February 28. Subject to the volume and caliber of entries received, at the discretion of the judges up to 3 cash prizes will be awarded. The first prize is $1,000; second prize is $750; third is $500.

Any student living in Westport — or attending school here — can enter.

The Westport Library is co-sponsoring the event. Winners will be announced at a ceremony there on April 2, 2020.

(For more information, including full contest rules and an application form, click here.)

Titanic Discoverer, Undersea Explorer Surfaces At Library

The 2nd “Andrew Wilk Presents…” will be fascinating.

On Thursday, February 13 (7 p.m.), Dr. Robert Ballard speaks at the Westport Library.

I was excited to interview him, for a sneak peak. In 1985 he discovered the wreck of Titanic. He’s also found the Bismarck, the lost fleet of Guadalcanal, the aircraft carrier Yorktown (sunk in the Battle of Midway), and John F. Kennedy’s PT-109.

Dr. Robert Ballard

But when I started talking about those titanic discoveries, he basically said, “Who cares?”

Ballard has bigger fish to fry.

The National Geographic Society Explorer-at-Large says his most important discoveries were of hydrothermal vents — and the exotic life forms living miles below the surface.

Basically, Ballard found the origins of life on earth. These creatures have found ways to duplicate photosynthesis without sunlight. Thanks to Ballard, we now know that life can flourish all over the universe.

He’ll talk about all that in Westport. (And Titanic too. “It’s part of the story of human history,” he realizes.)

But wait! There’s more!

Ballard is also about to embark on “the 2nd Lewis & Clark Expedition.” Of course, there are a couple of differences between this, and the one 2 centuries ago that uncovered the wonders of our still-unexplored continent.

Dr. Robert Ballard, ready to explore

For one, Ballard is going underwater. The US owns waters 200 miles from our coastline — and we’ve got a lot of coast. Including Alaska, Hawaii and all our Pacific islands like Guam, Ballard says there is as much undersea as the entire surface of the United States.

And we have no idea what minerals and species are down there.

“I’ll tell you when I find it,” Ballard says confidently.

A second difference between the 1800s and 2000s: Half of the explorers this time will be female.

“I’m calling it the Lois and Clark Expedition,” Ballard says.

So he’s not only astonishingly smart, and superbly adventurous. Ballard is also quite funny.

“Andrew Wilk Presents…” — hosted by Westport’s Emmy-winning television executive producer and director/playwright/symphony conductor — brings remarkable men and women to the library. The series kicked off last month with Michael Davie, a filmmaker who has worked on major projects for Oprah Winfrey, National Geographic, Discovery and more.

Ballard will be a compelling guest. His sense of adventure is — clearly — profound.

So I wanted to know more about what he will discover, in his upcoming exploration of our planet’s vast oceans.

“What did Lewis and Clark expect when they got in their canoes?” Ballard asked rhetorically.

“I’ll tell you when I find it.”

(Tickets for Dr. Robert Ballard’s talk with Andrew Wilk are $50 for reserved seating; $150 for VIP reception and reserved seating. Click here for tickets and more information.)