Category Archives: Library

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.)

Entitled Drivers Tackle New Targets

Take heart, handicapped people: You’re not alone!

For years, very entitled drivers have taken your parking spots.

Now there’s a competitor: spaces reserved for electric vehicles.

Never mind that you need these spots to charge your cars.

And forget that one reason for putting charging stations in accessible locations is to encourage more people to buy EVs.

There’s no excuse for this entitled parking.

And the driver definitely can’t say he couldn’t read the sign.

After all: This is the library.

(PS: The train station usually has fewer charging spots than vehicles wanting to charge. And often 2 or 3 of the 8 spots are taken by electric cars that are not plugged in — they probably have a full charge already. Just owning an EV doesn’t mean you can take those spaces!)

Library Transformation: Phase One Nearly Done

What takes 9 months to grow and deliver?

Right! The Westport Library’s Transformation Project!

Nine months after breaking ground, Phase I of the long-awaited project is set to end.

On June 4, the new Riverwalk level and “interim library” opens to the public.

With construction debris cleared, the lower level is looking good. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Final construction ends next year — closer to elephant gestation time than human — but the first phase offers a great preview of the stunning views, latest technology, new rooms and quiet spaces that will be key elements of the finished project.

During Phase II, the library collection will be available on the Riverwalk level. Construction on the main and upper levels — including the new, flexible Forum and reimagined children’s space — is expected to take 10 months.

The Riverwalk level will feature stunning views of the Saugatuck River. (Photo/Westport Library)

Reference, circulation, inter-library loans and other services will continue to be available. Program space will be limited though, so in addition to the library, events will be hosted at the Westport Weston Family Y, Suzuki Music School, Saugatuck and Christ & Holy Trinity Churches, Conservative Synagogue, Beit Chaverim, Westport Woman’s Club, Earthplace, police headquarters, Westport Historical Society, Senior Center, Town Hall and elsewhere.

Teen and adult book collections will be temporarily unavailable from May 14 until they are moved to the Riverwalk. Children’s books, the audio-visual collection and new releases are unaffected.

An artist’s rendering of the completed project, as seen from Jesup Green. (Image courtesy of HMA2 Architects)

The library will close from May 23 through June 3 to transfer material, move technology and do other work. The good news: No fines will be levied during those 11 days.

Meanwhile — despite construction — there’s always something special going on at the library.

The other day, director Bill Harmer gave an informal tour of the project. Internationally acclaimed pianist — and longtime library supporter — Frederic Frederic Chiu got a look at the new space.

Spotting a piano, he delighted the staff — and construction crew — with an impromptu performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s dramatic “Toccata.”

Wearing, of course, his mandatory hard hat.

(Photo/Westport Library)

(NOTE: The library has raised 88% of the funds needed to complete the project. To help reach 100%, click here. For schedules and events, click here.

Unsung Hero #44

When the 7th annual Maker Faire takes over Westport this Saturday (April 21), there will be something for everyone.

A record 12,000+ attendees — tech lovers, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science geeks, artists, authors, students and exhibitors — will share what they’ve made, see what others have created, teach, learn, be inspired, and inspire others.

And have tons of fun.

It’s a massive undertaking. Planning began the moment last year’s Maker Faire — which drew “only” 10,500 people — ended.

Hundreds of volunteers make it happen. But none of it would be possible without Mark Mathias.

Mark Mathias

Westport’s event– part of a worldwide movement (and of all 772 Maker Faires in 44 countries, among the top 5% in attendance) — was his brainchild.

In September 2011, his kids were fascinated by the New York Maker Faire.

Seven months later — thanks to Mathias’ work with the Westport Library, Sunrise Rotary and Downtown Merchants Association — we had our own “Mini Maker Faire.”

The “mini” is long gone. Now — with activities spread across the Library, Jesup Green, Taylor parking lot, Bedford Square, Town Hall and Veterans Green — it’s as maxi as it gets.

But the Maker Faire is not Mathias’ only local contribution. He’s in his 15th year on the Board of Education; is an active member of Saugatuck Congregational Church (with a particular interest in their mission trips), and when his daughter Nicole was at Staples High School, he was an avid supporter of the music department.

Mathias — whose professional background is in IT — is president of Remarkable Steam. The non-profit promotes innovation and creativity in the areas of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math).

This is Mark Mathias’ busiest time of year. Hopefully, he’ll take a few moments out of his hectic day to accept our thanks, as this week’s Unsung Hero.

Robots galore at last year’s Maker Faire.

(For more information on Westport’s Maker Faire, click here. To nominate an Unsung Hero, email

Egg-citing News For Hard-Boiled Cooks

It’s almost Easter. Time to buy the chocolate, bake the ham, boil the eggs.

Bonnie Tyler and Sheila Torgan can’t help with the first 2 tasks. But if making easy-to-peel eggs makes your blood boil, they hop to your rescue.

The women are the brains behind the Negg. It’s “the world’s greatest egg peeler.”

That’s not me or an infomercial talking. The Negg has been praised by the New York Times and the “Today Show” — along with egg-makers everywhere.

And it was hatched right here in Westport.

Sheila Torgan and Bonnie Tyler.

Bonnie and Sheila are longtime business partners. Past projects include web design.

That’s cool. But solving one of life’s most difficult puzzles — how to make an easy-to-peel egg — can be life-changing.

The women had a great idea: Put an egg in a peeler with water, then shake it so the peel comes off. Easy as pie.

But they had to create a model. Peeling an egg is hardly high-tech. Still, Bonnie and Sheila needed a technological tool.

They found it at the Westport Library.

The Maker Space — with its computers and 3D printer — is the perfect place to turn concepts into reality.

The Negg!

Library manager of experiential learning Alex Giannini guided the women through many prototypes. Finally, they found one that worked.

From there they produced a patent-pending mold.

Since then, they’ve sold over a quarter of a million Neggs. They’re available through Amazon, HSN, Wayfair, other outlets — and of course on their website.

Sheila and Bonnie may be the hard-boiled egg queens of the world. But they haven’t forgotten their roots.

They’ve given back to the Westport Library by speaking on a crowd-sourcing panel. They hoped to inspire other entrepreneurs to fulfill their dream.

All you need is an idea.

Though a Westport Library 3D printer certainly helps.

(For more information on the Negg, click here. Hat tips: Betsy Pollak and Deirdre Foote.)

Nile Rodgers’ Journey: From Disco To Abbey Road

Nile Rodgers seems to have done it all.

The 65-year-old Westporter/musician/ producer/ composer/arranger  has performed or produced for everyone from Sister Sledge (“We Are Family”) to Duran Duran, David Bowie, Madonna and Britney Spears.

He’s earned Grammys for Record of the Year and Album of the Year (for Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories”).

Those of us a bit older remember his guitar work with Chic (“Le Freak”).  Nearly 40 years later, he played at President Obama’s final White House party. It lasted until 6 a.m.

Nile Rodgers has even been honored as the Westport Library’s “Booked for the Evening” star.

But now he’s got a new gig: chief creative advisor at Abbey Road.

The legendary artist joins the most legendary studio on the planet. He’ll record rock and pop stars, while also mentoring up-and-coming performers.

Rodgers — who told the BBC he dreamed of working at Abbey Road ever since he heard “I Want to Hold Your Hand” — says that every day at work, he sees people recreating the road-crossing made famous on the Beatles’ eponymous album.

But, he adds, the studio remains cutting-edge. “I’m an audio fanatic. I want my new stuff to sound amazing.”

He’s already worked with Bruno Mars there.

It really must be “Something” to watch the 2 stars “Come Together.”

(For more details on Nile Rodgers’ new project, click here. Hat tip: Alan Hodge.)

Nile Rodgers outside Abbey Road Studios. (Photo/Jill Furmanovsky for BBC)

Pic Of The Day #340

The Westport Library’s Transformation project continues (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)