Category Archives: Library

Friday Flashback #154

The opening of the transformed Westport Library brought back memories of the original — and reminders, once again, that it was built on what was once the “town dump.”

Alert — and historic minded — “06880” reader Fred Cantor found a fascinating aerial photo, published by the Town Crier in 1965

(Photo/Robert Lentini)

Back then, the library was located in the building at the lower left of the photo. Today it’s the site of Starbucks, Freshii and other tenants.

Across the Post Road — at the foot of what we now call the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge — is a block of shops and apartments that burned in the late 1960s or early ’70s. Today it’s South Moon Under, and other stores.

But the most fascinating part of the photo is seen beyond Jesup Green and the Taylor Place parking lot. There — in the center of town — sat the Rogers Little League baseball diamond. The dugouts are about where the upper entrance to the library lot is today. (Why is it so bumpy now? Landfill.)

Unfortunately, the photo does not show what lies beyond left and center field. That was the town dump.

It smelled. It attracted seagulls. It was not uncommon for the birds to swoop near unsuspecting outfielders, attempting to catch flies (the baseball variety).

Around that time — perhaps a few years later — Westport artist Arthur Cady drew a series of Westport scenes.

(Illustration by Arthur Cady/courtesy of Jim Ezzes)

This one may have been a bit of artistic license. I don’t think the dump was quite that close to downtown.

But it sure was near to what is now Tiffany, nestling right behind on Taylor Place.

Exciting New Project Is “Write Here” In Westport

The Westport Library attracts plenty of writers.

And not just in the stacks, or for book talks.

It’s a wonderful place for anyone — published author, budding writer, wannabe — of any age to sit and create.

Choose your spot: the big tables in the Forum, one of the smaller community rooms, a bench on the Riverwalk.

There are other places in Westport to write, of course. The Senior Center and Westport Writers’ Workshop offer classes. The Saugatuck Story Lab is a welcoming space too.

Jan Bassin.

But Jan Bassin believes our town pulses with places that can inspire words. To jump-start those muses, she’s teamed up with the library to offer a month-long community writing project.

Every day during August, Bassin — Senior Center coordinator of writing programs, and the library’s Maker-in-Residence — will host an hour-long write-in.

Every day, it will be at a different spot.

The Playhouse. Compo Beach. The Farmers’ Market. The boardwalk at National Hall. Longshore. The train station.

You name it — if it’s in Westport you’ll find Bassin, and writers of every age and ability, all month long.

Each “Write Here” (get it?) session begins with a brief introduction from a representative of that location. Bassin will provide a prompt. Writers will then free-write: prose, poetry, first-person, creative, whatever. At the end, anyone who wants to can share their creations.

“The act of writing connects us to ourselves and our community,” Bassin says. “When you write somewhere, you feel connected to that spot.”

One example: At Wakeman Town Farm, the prompt might spur one person to write about her memories of growing up on a farm. Someone else might react to the sights and smells of WTF itself. A third person might be inspired to create a poem about animals.

Scenes like this could inspire some great writing.

The project kicks off this Thursday (August 1, 12 noon, Westport Library). I’ve been known to write a few stories about “06880,” so I’ll join Jan Bassin to talk briefly about writing in Westport.

Then we’ll turn it over to you all, for your own words.

Every “Write Here” session is free. You can come to as many or as few as you want. You can read your writing aloud, or keep it private.

“Write Here” will evolve, Bassin expects. She may create a website for writers who want their words to live on (by name, or anonymously).

You might even be inspired to submit a “Write Here” story to “06880.”

You know: this blog, right here.

(For more information about “Write Here: Westport,” click here.)

Hot Times For Arts Festival, Book Sale

Folks moved slower than usual. They drank more water.

But art and book lovers are hardy bunches. Artists and volunteers are too.

The 46th annual Fine Arts Festival took over Main Street today.  Painters, photographers, sculptors, printmakers, ceramicists and jewelry makers showed their creations.

Bands played music. Kids played with art materials. The Artists Collective of Westport sponsored an interactive — and very active — tent on Taylor Place.

Artists came from across the US. Westport was well represented too. Among the local exhibitors: Susan Lloyd …

… and Nancy Breakstone (who knows a thing or two about keeping cool):

The Fine Arts Festival continues today until 5 p.m. It’s on again tomorrow (Sunday, July 21), from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The predicted high is again 96 degrees. So do what this art aficionado did, and head downtown:

Meanwhile, a few yards away, crowds lined up before dawn. When Westport Library Book Sale volunteers opened the flaps at 9 a.m., 500 people waited.

They were not disappointed. The enormous tent held everything from fiction, history and cookbooks to Judaica, Cliff Notes and old magazines.

Inside — in the very well-air conditioned transformed library — buyers filled big bags with more books, CDs, DVDs and vinyl.

The big tent, as seen from the library steps. (All photos/Dan Woog)

The book sale continues today until 6 p.m. It’s on tomorrow (Sunday) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday is half-price day (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). On Tuesday everything is just $5 a bag (9 a.m. 1 p.m.).

It cools way down to 81 on Monday. That’s a welcome relief, after today.

Christmas In July

This weekend will be the hottest of the year. Of course: There’s always a heat wave during the Fine Arts Festival and Westport Library Book Sale.

But next week, stroll over the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge. You’ll find some cool reminders that Christmas is only 159 days away.

The Bonnie Marcus Collection design studio (5 Riverside Avenue, next to Arezzo) creates custom greeting cards for major nationwide retailers.

This is crunch time. With the AC cranked high, Bonnie and her crew are deep in design mode.

The cards feature Bonnie’s iconic “fashion girls” holding Bloomingdale’s bags, Barney’s hat boxes and gifts from Bendel’s.

You don’t have to schlep into the city to buy them. You don’t even have to go online, and wait for delivery.

Bonnie is giving away her stylish  holiday cards for free. If you’re a local fashion lover, you’ll love this offer.

Just look for the red and green (of course) balloons on Monday and Tuesday (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.).

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah too!

Fire Department Says: Keep Cool!

With the hottest temperatures of the year predicted for this weekend — and heat indexes well over 100 degrees — the Westport Fire Department sends this alert:

The Town of Westport reminds residents of health and safety measures to protect against heat-related illnesses, and to take special care of young children, seniors and other at-risk populations:

  • Find air conditioning, if possible
  • Check on family members and neighbors
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Avoid strenuous activities
  • Watch for heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke
  • Never leave people or pets in a closed car
  • Watch for heat illness
  • Wear light clothing.

The following cooling centers are open to the public this weekend:

  • The Senior Center, 21 Imperial Avenue (Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.)
  • Westport Library, 20 Jesup Road (Friday 9 a.m. to 6 6 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m.
  • Westport Weston Family Y, 14 Allen Raymond Lane, lobby open to public (Friday 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.; Sunday 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.).

The Fire Department will update their Facebook page with new openings and/or changes.

Click here for a link to the 2-1-1 “Extreme Heat Protocols” website.

One other way to keep cool: Elvira Mae’s ice cream window. (Photo/Robin Tauck)

Another Sign Of The Times

Westporters have a complex relationship with advertising signs.

We don’t want them clogging traffic islands — particularly when they’re illegal.

But for non-profits, they’re great vehicles for passing the word to passersby.

Alert “06880” reader/avid volunteer Amy Ancel writes:

People have been removing non-profits’ event yard signs from areas all over town — even those permitted and approved by the first selectman’s office.

This week’s thefts include signs for the Westport Library Book Sale and Wakeman Town Farm’s Family Fun Day.

I checked with Chip Stephens of the Planning and Zoning Commission. He and fellow commissioner Al Gratrix stopped removing illegal signs a year ago.

So it appears that members of the general public are removing our signs from town roads. They can’t do that!

Of course, commercial signs — like for Mosquito Joe, Hauling Unlimited and kids’ camps — are not legal anywhere.

But non-profit event signs are legal. They are approved by the first selectman’s office, for specific locations. They should not be touched by the public. This includes traffic islands maintained by local businesses.

These signs are one of two main ways non-profits have of advertising special events. (The other is social media.)

And these signs cost a lot of money. We try to reuse them, to create less waste!

We spend a lot of time and energy placing them. We’re only allowed 15 signs per event. It’s so aggravating to see them go missing almost as soon as we put them up!

Book Sale Begins Soon; Volunteers Needed

The Westport Library is transformed. But the annual book sale will be as familiar as your favorite novel.

Beginning Saturday, July 20 — the same weekend as the Fine Arts Festival — the 27th annual event features tens of thousands of books, in every category imaginable: art, children’s, graphic novels, foreign language, gardening, history, humor, music, mystery, nature, photography, poetry, religion, science fiction, sports, teens, travel.

That’s just the Jesup Green tent. Inside the library you’ll find DVDs, CDs, vinyl and paperbacks.

One scene from last year’s Book Sale.

This year’s specials include books from Ed Vebell, the famed illustrator whose heirs have donated much of his collection of military, American West and Native American objects, plus literature from Manny Margolis, the prominent civil rights attorney.

The Book Sale — whose proceeds benefit the library — needs over 300 volunteers. Set-up (starting July 15), sales, shelving, greeting, security, clean-up — there’s a job for everyone, of any physical ability.

If you’re a teenager, retiree or anyone in between, click here to sign up.

Book it!

(The Westport Library’s Book Sale is Saturday, July 20 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, July 21 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Monday, July 22 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Tuesday, July 23 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Fine Arts Festival is Saturday and Sunday, July 20 and 21 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.)

Newest Vending Machine: Library Laptops

The Westport Library opened its transformed space last month.

The big celebration was hardly a one-off. We’re in the midst of “30 Days of the Westport Library.”

Giveaways, demos, pop-up performances, movies, talks — there’s always something new going on there.

Lost in all the hubbub may be one of the coolest innovations of all.

Right there in the Hub — the center of all the activity — is a vending machine.

For laptops.

For the price of a library card — in other words, free — anyone 12 or older can check out a Mac or PC for up to 2 hours.

The laptop kiosk is activated by a library card — either the actual one, or the one on your app. The 7 Macs and 7 PCs are in the slots below.

They’re great for people who forget their laptops. For those who don’t like lugging them around. For kids, who love vending machines.

And for anyone else who enjoys the flexibility and technological innovations of the new library.

But — just as there are still DVDs and CDs on the floor — if you’re a desktop fan, the library’s got you covered. Three of those machines are available around the corner; 7 more are on the lower level.

They’re just not as much fun to check out.

Westport’s Poet Laureate Raps With “06880”

During her 22 years in Westport, Diane Meyer Lowman has done a lot.

As her 2 sons moved through the school system, she was involved in many PTA ventures, including ArtSmart. She helped formalize and coordinate Staples High School’s library volunteer program, and was on the district’s food committee.

She was a substitute Spanish teacher, at Staples and the middle schools. She did pro bono nutritional consulting for Homes with Hope. She teaches yoga at Town Hall.

But until a few days ago, Diane — a graduate of Middlebury College, with a master’s in Shakespeare studies from Britain’s University of Birmingham — had never been Westport’s poet laureate.

That’s okay. Until a few days ago, we’d never had a poet laureate either.

Diane Lowman (Photo/Jane LaMotta)

If you missed the announcement, you’re not alone. It came in the middle of the Westport Library’s opening-day ceremonies. (The library was part of the selection process, along with the superintendent of schools’ office and the town Arts Advisory Committee, which manages the poet laureate program.)

The application process was rigorous: a resume, personal statement, 4 letters of recommendation, and several interviews. “It was like applying to college,” she says.

So what exactly does Westport’s poet laureate do?

Good question.

The job description includes the importance of promoting poetry as a form of communication, inspiration and entertainment; expanding and promoting awareness and appreciation of poetry and writing in general, and advocating for poetry, literature and the arts.

Diane admits she is not a poet, per se. (She has, however, written 1600 haiku.)

“This is the inaugural position,” she says. “There’s no template. But I’ve got some good ideas.”

They include working closely with schools, the library and the arts community; helping students and senior citizens collaborate through writing; organizing poetry slams at places like Toquet Hall and the library; bringing a “Poetry on Demand” desk (and local poets) to townwide events; putting bulletin boards around Westport, for anyone to post poems; working with ArtSmart, the Westport Arts Center and Artists’ Collective of Westport to include poetry alongside exhibitions; integrating poetry into WestportREADS — stuff like that.

“I wake up every morning thinking of something new,” Diane says.

She welcomes ideas from the community. “This is not about me. It’s about Westport,” she explains.

Diane knows that the word “poetry” can be intimidating to some people. When she studied Shakespeare, she realized that his name too carries “a cultural cachet that can feel elitist or off-putting.”

But, she insists, “everyone can read and write poetry. It’s just another way to communicate feelings. It makes us realize how much we all have in common, whether we’re seniors in high school or seniors at the Senior Center.”

Her favorite poets are Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, and her son Dustin. (He’s midway through an MFA program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her other son, Devon, is an artist and art  handler, also in Chicago.)

Devon, Diane and Dustin Lowman.

There’s no type of poetry Diane does not like — except “poems that intentionally try to be difficult. Challenge is fine. Thinking, reflecting, questioning — that’s good. But it’s not good to make someone feel dumb or stuck.”

Westport’s new poet laureate — who began her honorary, non-compensated 2-year post on July 1 — is both excited and humbled.

“I’m so appreciative of this community,” Diane says. “I’m so glad to be able to give back to it. I know it sounds trite, but I’m very enthusiastic and excited.”

No, not at all.

Not trite; quite right.

(Westport poet laureate Diane Meyer Lowman welcomes all suggestions and ideas. Email waac@westportct.gov — with “Poetry” in the subject line — or dilo922@gmail.com)

Library Cafe’s Mystic-al Tale

Westport Library officials anticipated a big crowd at their “transformation” opening last Sunday.

They just didn’t figure it would be so big.

After a brass band led hundreds into the new building at 11:15, they swarmed into the new space. People oohed and aahed over the Forum, the recording studio, the children’s section, art galleries and reading rooms.

And they lined up, 20 deep, for sandwiches, salads, baked goods and coffee in the new café.

By 1:30, the library had run out of food.

They called Mystic Market — their new partner. Barely half an hour later, the café was fully restocked.

Heli Stagg in the library cafe, with prepared food from Mystic Market, baked goods from Sono Baking Company, and the brand-new espresso machine.

Mystic Market’s popularity has grown steadily, since opening a couple of months ago in the old Blu Parrot/Jasmine/Arrow Charles Street site near the train station.

Now, library users far beyond Saugatuck are discovering the market’s magic too.

The new partnership “was meant to be,” says Heli Stagg, Westport Library retail and café manager.

As the library expanded, she’d searched for a new partner. Oscar’s was the first, when the small original café opened several years ago. After owner Lee Papageorge died, Gold’s took over. Both were “great,” Stagg says.

But with the transformation project nearly complete, the library wanted to offer more than basic salads and sandwiches.

Stagg had heard raves about Mystic Market’s prepared foods. When she met general manager David Griswold, the first thing he offered was a tour of their state-of-the-art kitchen.

David Griswold (center) and his Mystic Market team.

Stagg was impressed. Serendipitously, the market’s owners — Mystic-based Coastal Gourmet Group — were there for a meeting. She invited them to the still-under-construction library.

A few minutes in, they told her, “We have to do this.”

“Their food is excellent,” she says. “We want a high-end vendor. And we want them to succeed. This is a win for both of us.”

Mystic Market is not the only café partner. SoNo Baking Company is in its 4th year providing baked goods.

As with Mystic Market, Stagg had heard good things about the Norwalk-based firm. When she met the owners — and tasted their food — she was sold.

With both companies, Stagg says, “we’re doing exactly what the library likes to do everywhere: make connections. We want people to enjoy the café, and learn about businesses they might not know.”

Patrons enjoy the new Westport Library cafe inside …

The transformed library has made one more connection: with Food Rescue US.

That’s the innovate group that uses an app to match supermarkets, restaurants (and library cafēs!) having leftover food, with volunteers who can pick it up and deliver to shelters, kitchens and pantries.

Now — like Westport Library patrons — they too can enjoy the Mystic Market and SoNo Baking bounty.

… and out.