Category Archives: Library

Pic Of The Day #694

Wise words, at the Westport Library exit (Photo/Dan Woog)

Library Transformation Nearly Complete

June 23: Book it!

That’s the Sunday — just 3 1/2 months from now — when the Westport Library unveils its finished Transformation Project.

It’s on time. On budget. And on track to revolutionize not only the library itself, but Jesup Green, Taylor Place, and probably the rest of downtown.

The other day — as workers pounded nails, laid tiles and ran wires — library director Bill Harmer took “06880” photographer Lynn Untermeyer Miller and me on a tour.

A few months ago, we previewed the lower level. Yet with all due respect to the stacks and reading nooks, the upper level is where all the action will be.

The “Great Hall” gets a lot greater. Gone is the “battleship” circulation desk, clunky kiosks and scores of stacks.

Now, Harmer says, the library has “liberated” nearly 11,000 square feet of space.

The main floor becomes a grand space for working, collaborating, watching concerts and performances, and hanging out. It can be reconfigured for an art show, fashion runway — if you imagine it, the library staff will do it.

“You can even have a wedding here,” Harmer says. I don’t think he’s joking.

The centerpiece of the “Forum” — its new name — is a tiered grandstand. It faces 2 directions — one of which is a new performing (and extendable) stage. Behind it is a giant video wall that Harmer calls “unlike anything anywhere in the state.” Theater-quality lighting hangs above.

The grandstand, looking toward Jesup Green…

… and the view from the top of the grandstand, toward the stage (rear).

A close-up of the grandstand. Mechanicals fit underneath; the exterior will be used for periodicals.

The entryway —  now accessible from Jesup Green, as well as the Levitt Pavilion parking lot — will include a “Hub.” That’s where you’ll find popular, new material, and a very user-friendly service desk.

That new entrance is huge. With a heated landing and steps, and a sidewalk linking it to the police station parking lot, it overlooks a natural amphitheater by Jesup Green.

Harmer envisions programs taking place on the landing, and the green.

Library director Bill Harmer outside the new entrance. Jesup Green and Taylor Place are close by.

Suddenly, that part of downtown seems part of the library. We’ll be encouraged to walk more; to linger on the green; to see the library as part of — rather than apart from — downtown.

A path now leads from Taylor Place to the police station parking lot. A new library entrance is along the path.

The connection continues inside. Dozens of windows have been added on the northern side. Natural light will flood in.

Plenty of windows let in lots of light.

There are many new rooms. Each serves more than one purpose. A hangout for teenagers in the afternoon becomes a lecture room at night, for example. A production facility turns into a green room for featured performers.

The new MakerSpace has 24/7 access from outside. Creativity strikes at any time, so users can come and go even when the rest of the library is closed.

The Library Cafe has been expanded enormously. A view of the bathroom has been replaced by one of the river. There’s outdoor seating — and a “BakerSpace” for demonstrations and nutrition talks. (Yes, that’s a play on “MakerSpace.”)

Upstairs, the hallway has been widened by 5 feet. That makes a huge difference. Seven large conference rooms will be open to the public (along with 2 on the riverwalk level).

There’s more room to walk on the 2nd floor.

But the star of the top floor is the children’s library. Though the same size as before, but it feels much larger.

The renovated children’s library.

The ceiling has been raised, revealing a large skylight that no one knew was there.

A peek through the porthole, at the newly discovered skylight.

Kids can peer through portholes at the Great Hall below — or they and their parents can enjoy wonderful river views on the opposite side. Mobile stacks will make this one of the most exciting parts of the entire building.

Library director Bill Harmer, in front of one of the new portholes. Children will gaze out, at all the action below.

The view from the children’s library is not too shabby.

The Transformation Project is truly a 21st-century design. Power outlets are everywhere. That’s one thing no library can have too much of.

Architects also thought to raise the floor. Finally, you’re high enough to actually see out of the windows.

Seeing, as we all know, is believing. Mark your calendars for June 23. You’ll see a library you could never have imagined.

Its transformation will be wondrous. And complete.

(For more information on the Westport Library’s Transformation Project, click here.)

Even the light fixtures are dramatic. (All photos and video/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Pic Of The Day #691

Westport Library (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Pic Of The Day #681

WestportREADS ended a few days ago. But for 2 months folks of all ages read, discussed, thought about and grew through “Exit West,” Mohsin Hamid’s novel about 2 refugees who, against all odds, find life and love on the run. (Photo/Westport Library)

Unsung Heroes #86

A few weeks ago, Katherine Bruan’s son was in a serious automobile accident. Ever since, her days have been filled with whatever a mom can do to help.

When he was still in the hospital, Katherine got an email from the Westport Library. She had 2 overdue books.

Both had been in the car. When it caught fire, they were destroyed. Katherine said she’d pay for both of them.

Immediately, the library replied: There was no charge.

The library is here for the community, the email said. She did not need one extra thing to worry about.

Take care of your son, the library added. And if you need anything from us, please call.

After the accident, many Westporters have reached out to help Katherine and her son. She is grateful to all.

But that one email was particularly special.

Any library is an institution. How nice that ours also has a heart.

 

It’s No Puzzle Where Cruciverbalists Were Today

There are 2 ways to do the New York Times crossword puzzle:

  1. By yourself
  2. In a room with a couple hundred other people, racing the clock and all those other geniuses who know that frybread is a “Naan-like Native American food,” epee is a “sword’s name with two accents,” and that shandy is a “beer and lemonade drink.” They also know who Danny Ainge, Joni Ernst and Gotye are, plus tons of other random stuff.

All those people who enjoy option #2 gathered this afternoon at the Saugatuck Congregational Church. They competed — good-naturedly, but fiercely — in the Westport Library’s 20th annual Crossword Puzzle Contest.

Solving crossword puzzles takes concentration.

For the 20th year, it was puzzle-master-minded — and presided over joyfully and cruciverbally — by Times crossword editor (and NPR star) Will Shortz.

New York Times puzzle editor Will Shortz and Westport Library director Bill Harmer entertain the crowd. The countdown clock is at right.

Contestants came from as far as North Carolina and Illinois. Ages skewed older, though there were enough younger faces to make Gotye a legit question.

After 3 rounds of increasing-in-difficulty Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday puzzles, the top 3 contestants (based on speed and accuracy) faced off for the title. They stood on stage, solving a tough Thursday crossword as the crowd watched.

The finalists (from left): Glen Ryan, Jesse Lansner and Ken Stern.

Glen Ryan finished in 6:50. However, he got one answer wrong.

Jesse Lansner was 2nd, in 7:30. But he got one wrong too.

So Ken Stern — slow, steady and perfect, in 11:37 — was declared the winner.

It was a fast, fun day. I know, because I was one of those solvers

I did not make the finals. But I was one of a few dozen to complete all 3 Monday through Wednesday puzzles perfectly.

Though I still have no idea who Gotye is.

Pic Of The Day #637

Part of the Westport Library’s Transformation Project (Photo/Doris Ghitelman)

The Immigrant Experience Comes Home

As Americans debate a slew of important items, immigration stands at the top of any list.

Here in Westport, we’re far removed from our southern border. The Wall is an abstraction — not a reality — to most of us.

But — for one reason or another — the immigrant experience resonates with nearly every Westporter.

This month, several events shine historical, artistic, literary and nuanced lights on a variety of immigration stories.

On Friday, January 18 (6 to 8 p.m.), Saugatuck Congregational Church opens an intriguing exhibit.

“Art Across Borders” features the work of 18 area artists, from Guatemala, Uruguay, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru. All migrated to the US. Each will share his or her own story, through art. The bold, emotional exhibit is curated by Rene Soto, owner of a gallery with the same name in South Norwalk.

One of the pieces on display at the Saugatuck Church — by Jose Munoz, from Guatelama.

“Lots of people come to the US — and to this area — for better lives,” says Saugatuck Church Arts Committee member Priscilla Long. “And many of those people express themselves through art.”

Saugatuck Church has long been concerned with social justice. This show is a natural outgrowth of that commitment. The exhibit will remain up for a month. Click here or call 203-227-1261 for more information.

The following week, a different house of worship offers a different program, on a different immigrant experience.

In June 0f 1939, over 900 Jewish refugees escaping Nazi terror on the SS St. Louis were within sight of Florida. Heartbreakingly, they were denied safe haven by Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Canada also refused entry.

Jewish refugees aboard the SS St. Louis.

The captain returned the ship to Europe, where countries including Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK and France accepted some refugees. Many, however, were later caught in Nazi roundups of Jews in occupied countries. Historians estimate that a quarter died in death camps during World War II

Three passengers who survived — Judith Steel, Sonja Geismar and Eva Wiener — will be in Westport on Thursday, January 24. At 7 p.m., Chabad on Newtown Turnpike will screen “Complicit” — a film about the SS St. Louis’ ill-fated journey. The trio will participate in a post-film Q-and-A, led by its creator/producer Robert Krakow.

Click here for more information. Tickets are $25 for adults, $18 for students.

Meanwhile, all month long — and into February — the Westport Library sponsors WestportREADS. This year’s book is Exit West. Novelist Mohsin Hamid follows 2 refugees who — against all odds — find life and love while fleeing civil war.

WestportREADS activities include book discussions, a conversation with migration experts, art exploration, world dance instruction, storytelling, music, genealogy research, and a presentation by a Syrian refugee family sponsored by members of the Westport community.

Click here for a complete calendar, and full details.

What’s Your Immigrant Story?

Unless you’re an original Pequot*, every Westporter is an immigrant.

Each of us has a story about how our family got to this country.

Tomorrow — and twice more next month — you can tell yours.

As part of this year’s WestportREADS — the selection is Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, an award-winning novel about 2 refugees who find life and love on the run — the Westport Library and Westport Historical Society are collaborating on an exhibit.

“Liberty to Set Down: Immigrants and Migrants in Westport, Connecticut” will be displayed at the WHS from January 23 to June 30.

But to do that, they need us to provide stories, pictures and artifacts.

They’ll be collected — and images and physical objects can be scanned — tomorrow (Thursday, December 27) from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Historical Society on Avery Place.

The other dates are Saturday, January 12 (11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Westport Library) and Wednesday, January 16 (10 a.m. to noon, Senior Center).

Everyone has a story. Don’t miss this opportunity to share yours!

* And even then, you came from Siberia.

Greens Farms Spirit Shop Sold; After 50 Years, We Toast Jack Riley

In November 1969, Jack Riley opened Greens Farms Spirit Shop in a Post Road strip mall near Turkey Hill South.

The holiday season is every liquor store’s Super Bowl. For nearly 50 years Jack has spent nearly every waking hour — including Christmas Eve — making sure his many loyal customers have all the whiskey, wine and beer they need.

There’s always something going on at Greens Farms Spirit Shop.

This year is different. Tomorrow — Saturday night — Jack will close up for the last time. The next day, he and his wife Eileen Proulx Riley — well-known too in town, for her long service with the Westport Library children’s department — head to California. Their 2 sons, 2 daughters-in-law and 4 grandchildren are there.

For once, Jack won’t think about inventory, deliveries, or anything else work-related. Earlier this week, he sold his store.

After half a century as one of our town’s favorite merchants, he’s moving west for good.

That’s bad news for countless Westporters who started as customers, and became friends. But 50 years is a long time to own a business.

Particularly one as demanding — and in demand — as a liquor store.

Jack’s roots in the area are long and deep. He grew up in Fairfield. After graduating from Christ the King High School, he worked for an electrical distributor.

His father was the last of 4 generations of rye makers. In 1969 Jack and his dad — also a Sikorsky engineer and tool-and-die maker — found a great location for a liquor store. They spent that summer building it out.

Jack Riley at Greens Farms Spirit Shop, on the first day of business: November 10, 1969.

Jack had a great run. In a town in which many businesses have the longevity of fruit flies, Greens Farms Spirit — and its next door neighbor, Fortuna’s — have been not just consistent, but consistently good.

Jack’s store is well known not just for knowledgeable help, wine tastings, a wide selection at all price points, and the many young Westporters he’s hired and mentored, but for its genuine friendliness.

If “Cheers” was the bar where everyone knew your name, Greens Farms Spirit is the liquor store equivalent.

The wide aisles and square sales counter are places of constant banter. It’s not quite a country store with pot-bellied stove, but for a spirit shop it comes close.

In October 2012, the power was out all around town. But Jack Riley’s Greens Farms Spirit Shop was open.

Customers know Jack’s family well, because he talks proudly about them. His son Kevin and wife Genoa own a wine business. They have 3 boys, ages 13, 10 and 9. Jack’s other son Tim works for the Navy as a computer engineer. He and his wife Amy have a 6-year-old girl.

Both families live within 2 hours of each other, on the sparsely populated, beautiful central California coast.

Back row (from left): “Jack” Nelson Riley, Eileen Riley, Jack Riley. Front:
Finley, Westley and Barrett Riley. 

Jack and Eileen have bought 10 acres. They’ll build a new house. He’ll play a lot of golf. They’ll be bi-coastal until she leaves her job at the library.

And he’ll connect with a new set of customers, at Kevin’s tasting room. (He’ll no doubt see plenty of old ones too. That area — and those wines — are popular draws for Westporters.)

Most of all, Kevin says, “he looks forward to learning to drive a tractor, and be the cowboy he’s always dreamed of.”

The new owners will run Greens Farms Spirit Shop. Rob Pelletier — Jack’s longtime assistant manager — will still be there. The friendly, helpful fun vibe will continue.

But before they take over on Sunday, let’s raise our glasses one last time — in person, or online.

Here’s to you, Jack Riley: for 50 years, the true spirit of Greens Farms.