Tag Archives: Bill Harmer

Library Books In The Dumpster: The Back Story

Disturbed after finding discarded books in the Westport Library’s dumpster, alert reader Dylan Stableford recently wrote to “06880”:

The first time I noticed some library books in there I thought, that’s odd. Why wouldn’t they sell them, or donate them to Goodwill or a used book store? But figured it was just a lazy employee/one-time thing.

The next time, there were more books. And the next time, even more — sometimes  2/3 full.

These were not old and overworn books. Some were essentially new. I even grabbed two (Jon Stewart’s “America: The Book” hardcover, and a nice paperback copy of “In Cold Blood”). Yesterday, the dumpster was full.

(Photo/Dylan Stableford)

I asked someone at the front desk about it. They said they didn’t know but took my information and would get back to me. No one did.

My question is: Why? Why not donate them to, say, a school library in town? Or Goodwill? Or store them for an eventual book sale? Seems like an operational breakdown (at best) or laziness (at worst).

I asked Westport Library Bill Harmer for an answer. He quickly said:

Thank you for sharing your concerns with us regarding our book recycling process.

While we cannot specifically address the books mentioned, it’s likely that the books found in the dumpster were those declined by our dedicated book sale volunteer team.

We are truly appreciative of the generous donations of thousands of gently used, good-condition books, which are ideal for resale. We meticulously sort, price and store tens of thousands of these books for our book sale events, and the Westport Book Shop.

Thousands of books are available at regular Westport Library sales. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Unfortunately, we receive unsuitable books on a daily basis. These may be too damaged, exposed to humid conditions resulting in mold or mildew, filled with excessive margin notes or underlinings, or carry a strong odor of cigarette smoke.

Occasionally, even books that appear to be in good condition may have absorbed unpleasant odors due to storage with other books in less favorable conditions.

Furthermore, our book donation center operates from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays. Despite clear signage urging patrons not to leave books outdoors when the center is closed, books left outside overnight or on Sundays are exposed to the elements and must be recycled, as we advertise.

Our book sale has a clearly defined policy, accessible on the Westport Book Sale Ventures website, which outlines materials we do not accept, including most encyclopedias, test-prep books over 3 years old, Time-Life series books, and magazines. Occasionally donors, after having their contributions declined for these reasons, may unfortunately choose to improperly dispose of books in our dumpsters.

It’s vital to understand that the books withdrawn from our Westport Library collection are removed for various reasons, such as damage, non-circulation, outdated content and various other factors.

When a book is no longer in use due to damage, outdated information, or low demand, we prioritize responsible and environmentally friendly disposal methods. Recycling is one of those methods, helping us minimize our environmental impact. Our goal is to maintain a relevant and high-quality collection for our patrons. Recycling enables us to make space for new and valuable resources.

Stacks downstairs, at the Westport Library.

Also of note: We send books that are no longer in frequent circulation but are in good condition to Better World Books, which sells them to support educational, literacy, and other programs. Better World Books also donates books to charity. We get a small amount of money back when we send books to them.

Transporting these materials to Goodwill or other charities poses logistical challenges. Unfortunately, we lack the capacity to deliver them to alternative locations. Moreover, these organizations typically lack the resources, including staff and facilities, to manage the collection and processing of these books. Even when we extend invitations to charities to collect books for free at the end of our sales, very few organizations take us up on the offer.

We hope this explanation sheds light on our book management practices. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any further questions or concerns.

(Readers often ask questions of “06880.” Answering them is one more feature of our hyper-local blog. Please support our wide-ranging work, by clicking here. Thank you!)

Roundup: Chamber’s 1st Citizens, Civil War, Staples Graduation …

A capacity crowd (including namesakes Rev. John and Judyth Branson) filled Christ & Holy Trinity Church’s Branson Hall last night, for the annual 1st Citizen Award dinner.

The 7th annual event — sponsored by the Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce, but the first held since the pandemic — honored Westport Library director Bill Harmer, CastleKeepAdvisors founder and CEO Charlie Haberstroh, and 4 student entrepreneurs: Marley Brown, Akhila Kooma, Addison Moore and Jamie Semaya.

Charlie Haberstroh (center) and his family.

The theme of the evening — echoed by Chamber director Matthew Mandell and keynote speaker US Senator Richard Blumenthal — was “giving back to the community.”

Westport Library director Bill Harmer speaks. Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce director Matthew Mandell is at left.

All 6 honorees have done that in major ways. And all expressed thanks that the communities of Westport and Weston have inspired, and enabled them, to do so.

Keynote speaker Senator Richard Blumental. (All photos/Dan Woog)


Also last night: the opening of a new exhibit at the Westport Museum for History & Culture.

“Reluctant Liberators: Westport in the Civil War” was curated by students. Staples High School junior Talia Moskowitz took the lead, as part of an independent study project.

She got help from the museum’s high school interns: Amelia Gura, Devan Patel and Oscar Scher (Staples), Stephanie Field (Weston) and Tess Innes (Wilton).

The exhibit includes information on early Westporters like the Toquet, Coley and Ketchum families, and an exploration of racial issues during that time.

It runs through November 11.

Talia Moskowitz, at the Westport Museum for History & Culture exhibit.


Speaking of Staples: Can’t make it to graduation ceremonies for the Class of 2023? Live far away? Or you couldn’t snag a ticket?

No problem.

Next Tuesday’s ceremony (6 p.m., football field) will be livestreamed. Click here for the link.

It’s also be available on Optimum Channel 78. Enjoy!


As the end of school nears, here’s an important reminder: Not every family here can afford the camps and enrichment programs many take for granted.

Westport’s Department of Human Services can help.

Last summer, 58 income-qualified youth, from 32 families, participated in the department’s campership program.

This year, the number may be higher.

Human Services director Elaine Daignault encourages residents who can, to contribute. Online donations can be made to the “DHS Campership Fund” (click here), or mailed to 110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport, CT 06880.

For more information — including how to qualify for a campership — email youth and family specialist Annette D’Augelli: 203-341-1050; adaugelli@westportct.gov.

Summer Camp has been part of growing up for decades. In 1953, Westport artist Stevan Dohanos used Camp Mahackeno for this Saturday Evening Post cover.


Tomorrow marks the start of Wakeman Town Farm’s farm stand.

Open every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., it features fresh produce, fresh-cut flower bouquets, WTF logowear and honey, and products from local vendors like artisan baked goods, extra virgin olive oils, gourmet balsamic vinegars, Chaga mushroom elixirs, homemade salsas and more.

The gardens are open. It’s also a chance to see the animals, and chat with farmers.

PS: This week: limited amounts of country and roasted garlic sourdough, multigrain pan loafs, focaccina minis, olive-Focaccia and bomboloni Nutella.

Wakeman Town Farm farm stand.


When it comes to powerful adjectives and action verbs, no one beats the New York Post. 

Yesterday’s story on the the future of Phil Donohue and Marlo Thomas’ former Beachside Avenue home begins:

A Connecticut “Gold Coast” mansion sold by talk show pioneer Phil Donahue for $25 million is to be be bulldozed by its current owners who say it is falling apart and overrun by vermin.

The once-palatial Tudor on Westport’s most exclusive avenue has become a home for rats and raccoons with a caving-in roof, its new owner Peggy Reiner claims.

She is involved in a bid to tear down the 8,500 square foot manse after building a 20,000 square foot beach-view home with a commanding prospect of Long Island Sound in front of it.

The long story describes the history of the current property, and others nearby.

It also calls “06880” a “popular gossipy and newsy blog.”

Nice. But we’ll stick with “where Westport meets the world.”

Click here for the full Post story. (The “06880” mention comes near the end.)

The New York Post story includes this Google Earth photo of Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas’ “vermin”-filled old house (rear), and the 20,000-plus square foot home that replaced it.


The recent haze from Canada’s wildfires prompts this message, from Westport’s Office of Emergency Management:

Daycare providers, summer camps and older residents should subscribe to the Air Quality Index . It is fast, easy and provides important daily information. The link includes ground-level ozone, its health effects, what to do on a high ozone day, and how to reduce ground level ozone in your backyard.

Learn how to cope with days like this. Subscribe to the AQI. (Photo/Charlie Scott)


Speaking of air quality: Neighbors & Newcomers has postponed today’s year-end party (scheduled for Compo Beach), due to the outdoor conditions.

A new date will be announced soon.


Speaking of health: Both the federal and state governments have declared an official end to the COVID public health emergency.

What does that mean for testing, vaccines, insurance coverage and more? Click here for a full report from CT Mirror.


When Judy Auber Jahnel saw a tiny insect she could not identify, she emailed a photo to the University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension.

They told her it was a spotted lanternfly nymph — quite different looking from the mature one she’s familiar with. they look quite different.

She sent this link to “06880,” in the hopes that readers will learn about them — and the damage that spotted lanternfly nymphs and adults can cause.

Spotted lanternfly nymph. (Photo/Judy Auber Jahnel)


There must be a back story to this.

Stupid parking tricks, at the Westport train station. (Photo/Jeremy Deutsch)

And we’d sure like to hear it. Click “Comments” below.


Everyone shops at the Westport Farmers’ Market.

Including the town’s 1st selectwoman and police chief.

Jen Tooker and Foti Koskinas were part of yesterday’s crowd.

The market runs every Thursday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Imperial Avenue parking lot.


Yesterday’s Roundup posed a question: What’s up with the Photoshopped figure on top of the Westport Country Playhouse photo I posted on “06880” a couple of days ago.

It took about 12 minutes to find the answer.

Miggs Burroughs — Westport’s graphic artist/photographer extraordinaire, who has worked with nearly every organization in town — Photoshopped Ann Sheffer on the roof of the building, several years ago.

It was a gift from the Playhouse to her, for her many years of service and support.

In fact, Ann — one of our town’s most philanthropic residents — spent one summer, back in the day, as an usher there.

Decades later, she made it onto the roof.

And now the mystery is solved.


Also yesterday, our Roundup gave an incorrect date for this weekend’s “Last Lollapaloosa” at Blau House & Gardens.

The correct day for the Bayberry Ridge event is Sunday, June 11.

The day includes tours of the magnificent property, yoga, children’s book readings, a reception and more.

Click here to register (deadline: June 5), and for information on payment and shuttle transportation from Coleytown Elementary School.

A view of the Blau gardens.


David Vita spotted this handsome hawk yesterday. It poses proudly, for its “Westport … Naturally” close-up.

(Photo/David Vita)

David adds: “This made me think about all the animals that had to breathe this foul air the past days.”


And finally … George Winston, the new age pianist (he called it “rural folk piano”) died Sunday in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. He was 74, and had been ill with cancer.

Click here for a full obituary.

(“06880” will cover Staples’ graduation — as we do with every big town activity, and many small ones. Please help us keep doing it. Click here to contribute — and thank you!)

The COVID Chronicles

Remember COVID?

Three years ago this month we stood in line outside Trader Joe’s. Then we washed the food we bought.

We hunted for toilet paper.

But mostly, we hunkered down at home.

Mary-Lou Weisman

Mary-Lou Weisman remembers those days. A journalist for publications like the New York Times and The Atlantic, and author of 5 books, the longtime Westporter was teaching an advanced memoir writing class at the Westport Library when her 10 students’ lives changed dramatically.

Sharing their writing had drawn the group tightly together. Suddenly, those bonds were threatened.

Weisman suggested they stay in touch, by email. For 7 months they wrote, hit “send,” responded, and wrote some more.

At first their topics were tame: following arrows in stores, their favorite walks, whether to keep coloring their hair.

Gradually, they ventured into more serious stuff: getting along (or not) with partners. The “invasion” of kids back from New York. The changing perceptions of time. Politics.

Here’s one example:

I like alone time. I used to call these days my “snow days” as I revert to those in the classroom.

Am I enjoying them this week? Yup, but the promise of a month or more, or even more, makes me think: not so much.

Spending this unforeseen amount of time with my husband, (who doesn’t always put in his hearing aids), the ubiquitous Fox News, our dog who is hanging onto life with a silver thread, and a blank calendar make me determined not to complain, go out for a walk every day, do custodial things like cleaning out my file cabinet, and finish up writing assignments that I’ve procrastinated and probably won’t get published anyway due to everything closing or, in my case, the newspapers where I’m published going under for lack of advertisers.

Yesterday I thought that that the only stores necessary to sustain life as I know it are grocery stores, bookstores, and wine stores. An owner of a bookstore I’m writing about thinks that Trump will close down ALL retail by the end of the week. Then what?

In April 2020, every store on Main Street was closed. (Photo/Molly Alger)

Two group members were hospitalized with COVID. They kept writing.

I’ve been admitted to the hospital. The latest is that I’ve developed violent vertigo that leaves me under the impression I’ve slithered to the floor of one of those horrible spinning teacup carnival rides. The puking starts instantaneously and sometimes lasts hours. It’s about the most miserable feeling I’ve ever experienced—and laws knows, having spent 20 years with the Mingler, I’ve seen some misery.

I either spend the days sleeping or puking and praying for sleep.

My Covid test came back negative, which surprised me. I suspect a false negative. However, if I don’t actually have it, I’m ideally situated to pick it up.

Today I needed a walker AND a babysitter just to take a fricking pee. I’m shaking my fist at some unnamed god.

I don’t know when I’ll be well enough to participate. Even writing this email required Herculean effort. I miss everyone.

Grumble, grumble, grumble. Stay alive through this shit show please.

A classmate wrote back:

Dear God, I’m so very, very, very sorry to read this news. You’re in the right place to get the help you need, in spite of corona crowding. My thoughts and hope are with you.

I think I may have gotten IT, also, as I woke up this morning with some of the symptoms. And here my family is so worried about my husband. I’m thinking, read “hoping,” I have a mild case. Stay tuned.

The tone of most pieces was conversational. Occasionally, there were confrontations.

“It was the whole arc of human feeling and activity,” Weisman says.

Seven months in, the class began meeting via Zoom. Weisman looked at the 700 pages they’d amassed, and realized: This is a document about what Westporters have experienced during the pandemic. It could be a book.

Gina Ryan, a student who is “technologically adept,” said she’d help. Weisman sent Library director Bill Harmer a sampling of the writing. He loved it. The Library signed on, to help produce it.

Ryan and Weisman edited the 700 pages. Alison McBain created the cover, and prepared the book for publication.

“The COVID Chronicles” went to the printer last week. On May 15 (7 p.m.), it will launch at the Library.

All 10 writers will read an entry. Then there’s food and drinks for everyone.

Just like a little over three years ago, in pre-pandemic days.

(Copies of “The COVID Chronicles” will be available at the May 15 event. Click here to order the color edition on Amazon. Click here for the black-and-white version. Click here for the Kindle one.)

(The book includes writing by Weisman, Ryan, G. Kenneth Bernhard, Bernadette Hutchings Birney, Lynn Goldman, Judith Hamer, Deborah Howland Murray, Morgaine Pauker, Donna Skolnick, Polly Tafrate and Maria Rossello Zobel.)

(“06880” covered COVID closely. We’re here for Westport, through good times and bad. Please click here to support this blog. Thank you!)

EXTRA CHAPTER: Here is one more excerpt from the book:

My husband came down with a 102-degree fever and a cough on Friday. The minute that thermometer left his mouth, I left the room and haven’t been back since. He has been quarantined for five days, and I’ve moved to a different floor of the house. Aside from a few business trips that kept us apart, this is the longest we’ve gone without touching each other since we met.

Now that we can’t be in the same room, I am so aware of how physical we are; how much that makes us feel loved.

My husband always likes to intertwine our hands, but his fingers are so bony it hurts, so I curl my fist inside his palm—our bizarre way of holding hands. We give each other friendly shoves to see who can get in the house first. We sit on the couch: our thighs touching, or his feet on my lap, or his arm around me, or my head on his shoulder. He hooks a finger in my belt loop when I try to stand up and pulls me back down to kiss me.

I drape myself around him while he pays the bills on his laptop. He comes up behind me when I’m in the kitchen (always at the worst times!) when I’m stir-frying or taking a tray out of the oven, and he bites my ear or snuffles my neck, while I squirm out of his grasp, half-annoyed and half-turned on, saying, “Hot stove! Hot stove!” Even in the car, we touch each other: he grabs my hand and puts it on the nape of his neck. Or he says, “Nobody’s checking me,” which means, “Take your hand and fluff the hair on the back of my head.”

When we sleep, we find each other: back-to-back, toes to leg, an arm curled over a chest. He reaches out his hand to me in the morning when his alarm goes off at 5:30, a little squeeze on my shoulder before he leaves. But now there’s none of that.

I miss him, but I am also supremely irritated by him now. I have become Beck-and-Call-Nurse-Waitress and I’m sick of it. I go up and down the stairs with water, popsicles, Tylenol, rice, pasta, salad, a hot water bottle, a fruit cup, tea, a thermos, more tea. I knock and run away. He leaves the dishes in the hall, and I put them in the dishwasher and scrub my hands like a surgeon. He asks for charging cables, books, a folding chair, a TV tray. I go up and down the stairs some more.

When his fever was very high, he was kind and grateful and said, “Thank you, thank you, you’re so nice,” every time he heard me outside his door. But his fever broke on Sunday and now that he’s feeling better, he has turned sarcastic and demanding. When I ask how he’s feeling, he coughs and says, “How do you think I’m feeling?” as if I’m an idiot. He’s mad that we’re out of bananas and accused me of “poor planning.” He’s tired of being cooped up in one room. He’s tired of talking through the door and me saying, “WHAT?! WHAT?! Okay, Mumbles!” because I can’t make out what he’s saying. He’s tired of texting me, and me not responding because I left my phone in the other room and didn’t hear it ping. We are tired of each other. And the longer we don’t touch each other, the more we both stop caring.

Through a closed door, I cannot see how cute he is; how his silly expressions always soften my anger and make me laugh, even when I don’t want to laugh. I can’t kiss the side of his neck or stroke his bristly sideburns. I can’t smell his smell, which always reminds me of pencil shavings and hotel soap. I can’t put my head on his chest and cry.

So many of our arguments, our temper tantrums, our fears and stress are resolved by our bodies. That “oh, come on,” nudge, raised eyebrows and sweet smile; that “you know you want a piece of this!” swagger that makes us giggle. We touch each other and it’s all okay. We are okay.

Nine… more… days.

“COVID Chronicles” includes photos of all class members, with and without masks. Shown here: Ken Bernhard and Lynn Goldman.

In Polarized Times, Westporters Seek Common Ground

Mia Bomback is a Staples High School sophomore. She is not yet old enough to vote.

But, she writes: 

I am beginning to develop my political awareness. And in our increasingly divisive society, the slippery slope that is civil discourse is confusing and overwhelming. As such, I feel so privileged to be one of 2 local high school students on a brand new town-led initiative that has set out to create space for all voices.  

In the wake of complex controversies, Common Ground Initiative is a Westport organization comprised of 11  figures of different ages, races, genders, sexual orientations, political and ethnic backgrounds.

We are united by a shared goal: a desire to make Westport a comfortable place for uncomfortable conversation.

Mia Bombeck

Members of the Common Ground Initiative include former 1st selectman Jim Marpe, Westport Library executive director Bill Harmer, TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey Jr., and other local professionals.

Adam Vengrow, a founding member of CG, says that the initiative was founded in response to increased tension in Westport’s political climate over the past 2 years. 

 “The goal of CG,” he explains, “is to create a safe space for open conversation, where people can learn to agree to disagree, and understand each other’s points of view.”  

Over the past few months, we have planned for our inaugural event and the introduction of our mission to the wider Westport community. Through a series of open forums and guest speakers at the Westport Library, we hope to teach and encourage attendees to engage in open, honest and healthy dialogue.

Senator Roy Blunt

The first of many CG-led discussions will be held on May 2 (7 p.m.), and will feature a moderated conversation with former United States senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, and opportunity for audience engagement. Westporter Steve Parrish will moderate the event.

For Westport, CG provides a platform for freedom of conversation and expression. As the world becomes more globalized, respect and tolerance of other viewpoints become even more crucial. This starts at the community level.

As I grow up, I’ll no doubt encounter many different perspectives. From college to the workplace and beyond, learning to agree to disagree is a skill worth its weight in gold.

For more details on the May 2 Common Ground event. click here.

(“06880” gives a voice to teenagers like Mia Bombeck — and all Westporters. Please click here to support our work. Thank you!)


Haberstroh, Harmer: “First Citizen” Honorees

Two men who have made their mark on Westport will be honored as First Citizens.

Charlie Haberstroh — a longtime civic volunteer, and founder and CEO of CastleKeep Investment Advisors — and Westport Library executive director Bill Harmer are honorees of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce.

The first First Citizen Award dinner since the pandemic is set for June 8 (Branson Hall, Christ & Holy Trinity Church). The keynote speaker is Senator Richard Blumenthal.

The event honors one non-profit leader, and one businessperson. They “represent what is best in our town for their work ethic, generosity and how they approach business,” says Chamber director Matthew Mandell.

From left: Charlie Haberstroh and Bill Harmer.

“It is a distinct honor to be recognized by a community that has given my family so much since we moved here in 1990,” says Haberstroh.

“Whether it’s long nights on the baseball fields, picturesque sunsets at Compo Beach or digging out of the sand hazards at the Longshore golf course, I cherish the many memories and experiences in Westport,” says Haberstroh.

“Since I founded my investment advisory firm in 2000, I’ve also had the privilege of giving back to the community through public service. I was inspired to do so by my wife and by Bill Meyer who also inspired many who continue to serve Westport.”

Harmer calls himself “deeply humbled and moved by this recognition by my friends at the Chamber of Commerce, for frankly doing work that I absolutely love and am extremely passionate about.

“Thanks also to my staff and our Board of Trustees who consistently support our vision and allow me to be a part of this magnificent place we call Westport and the Westport Library.”

Also receiving awards: 4 “Young Entrepreneurs.” Marley Brown, Akhila Kooma, Addison Moore and Jamie Semaya are seniors from Weston and Staples High Schools. All created new and intriguing business ventures.

Tickets are $125 each. Tables of 10 are also available. Click here for details.

(“06880” relies on reader support. Please click here to contribute — and thank you!)

Unsung Heroes #281

VersoFest 2023 is in the books.

The Westport Library’s 4-day music-media-and-much-more event may be unique in the US. It’s hard to imagine another library anywhere that produces concerts, offers workshops on songwriting and fashion and rap, and displays Alice Cooper artifacts and a scale model of the Grateful Dead’s sound system.

Thousands of people enjoyed different aspects of VersoFest. They saw a seamless web of activity, spread over 4 days.

Producer Steve Lillywhite and Talking Head’s founder Chris Frantz, on the VersoFest stage. (Photo/Dinkin Fotografix)

But it didn’t just happen.

The Y’s Men donated cookies, bagels and coffee for the record fair. Restaurants contributed food for the staff, talent and sponsors. Over 100 community members helped plan VersoFest, and make it go. It’s impossible to name them all.

Volunteers manned the lights at VersoFest. (Photo/Chad Anderson Photography)

Of course, huge kudos go to the Library staff. It all started — and ended — with them.

Executive director Bill Harmer was extremely proud of them this week. He was also exhausted. But he took time to offer shout-outs to a few of the men and women who put the “fest” in VersoFest.

Library director Bill Harmer welcomes attendees to VersoFest. (Photo/Chad Anderson Photography)

Alex Giannini (associate program director), and his team of Jennifer Keller and Kerri Gawreluk, managed programming and events. Alex coordinated every concert, keynote address, panel discussion and workshop. He’s a masterful problem solver — which is why he solved everyone, before attendees noticed.

Melanie Myers (chief of operations) managed everything besides programming. She developed all staffing, security and all facility plans. Details and logistics ranged from parking and room arrangements to keeping bathrooms clean. Like Alex, she too is a seasoned problem-solver.

EJ Crawford (marketing director) and his team handled the website, social media, magazine, advertising, promotion, brochures, programs and signs. EJ was hyper-focused on details. And every night he pitched n with staff to clean trash, stow chairs, and make sure the building was ready for the next day.

Robin Powell (administrative assistant) was VersoFest’s glue. She helped mastermind food and hospitality. She ran hundreds of errands around Fairfield County, pulling everything together. She did it all with a smile (and a pep talk to whoever needed one), keeping the energy level high always.

Ashley Hyde (social media) is a creative force. She set a high standard for libraries everywhere, with dynamic, interesting, fun, energetic and engaging posts.

Julie Bonington (graphic designs) created innovative graphics, the logos, signage, banners, posters and more from scratch. Her attention to details ensures that the Library looks professional, clean, and brilliant to the world.

Brendan Toller (marketing manager, Verso Studios) created every interesting promotional piece, short clip, interview and featurettes. He also played a massive role curating the talent, from the record fair to the hip hop panel. His connections in the worlds of media and music are immense. He also documented events with his camera and video camera.

Everyone’s job was challenging. But Travis Bell (audio engineer) had to ensure that all the technology and logistics were carefully planned and  perfectly executed. He spent long days and nights mixing and mastering audio and tech for the live concerts, plus each panel and keynote address. “No one else can do what he does,” Harmer says. “Without Travis’ audio engineering and brains, there is no VersoFest.”

Audio engineer Travis Bell, at work. (Photo/Chad Anderson Photography)

Video manager – Verso Studios David Bibbey manages the entire visual experience, directing it with staff and volunteers. He and his team filmed, captured and recorded every event. They also produced all the supporting content. It’s rare for a venue the Library’s size to have such tehcnology — and David and his team takes it to the next level.

Agata Slattery is the Library’s fundraising expert. She worked with Harmer to secure sponsors. She helped manage the VIP experiences, and made every guest feel special. She even tended bar and served food.

Jennifer Bangser helped create and curate panels and exhibits. She managed the stunning Alice Cooper museum and Wall of Sound. :She pumps everybody up with her positivity and gratefulness,” Harmer says.

Kathleen Malloy and her team at Patron Services oversaw all of the monitors and maintenance staff. She also saw that “regular customers” were attended to, in the midst of a massive festival going on.

Robert Aubrey, Patrick Carey and Mike Treadwell (building monitors) were the last to leave each night. Always friendly, thoughtful and helpful, Robert always thanks staff and talent for their hard work before they go.

Jesus Torrealba-Aular (building maintenance supervisor) made sure the building worked — and worked well — every second the doors were open. Maintenance wise, there is nothing he can’t do.

Matthew Mandell (volunteer – Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce director) was as essential as any staff member all festival long. He, Robin and Kevin Cordero managed all the food, beverage and hospitality. He took care of the talent in the green rooms, and made all VIPS, patrons, guests and staff feel welcome. (He also saw that everyone was well hydrated.) Matthew also worked with Harmer and his team managing the concerts, and coordinating with bands.

Sunflower Bean backstage at VersoFest, with Talking Head and Tom Tom Club’s Chris Frantz (far left) and Tina Weymouth. (Photo/Matthew Mandell)

Kevin Cordero (volunteer hospitality) coordinated and ensured that everyone was happy. He did a massive job well, from start to finish.

Meryl Kaplan, the Library’s finance director, had been on the job for only 2 weeks. Still — in a great trial by fire — she managed all the money. It was quite a trial by fire.

“It would be impossible to thank the entire staff but everyone contributed something to make this festival a success,” Harmer says. “From youth and teen services to reference librarians, everyone helped.

“I’m so proud of our staff for bringing this festival to life. Our community loved every minute of it.”

(If you know an Unsung Hero, email 06880blog@gmail.com. And if you are able to support “06880,” please click here. Thank you!)

Volunteers helped make VersoFest a success. (Photo/Chad Anderson Photography)

Songwriting, Screenwriting Workshops Featured At VersoFest

Starting Thursday, VersoFest will draw music and arts lovers from around the region.

But some featured presenters will come from much further.

Longtime collaborators Amilia K Spicer and Edward Romero are flying in from California.

Amilia — a singer-songwriter — opens for the Smithereens on Friday (March 31, 7 p.m.), the second day of the 4-day music, media and more Westport Library event.

On Saturday (April 1, 3 p.m.) she leads a master class in songwriting.

Amilia K Spicer

Veteran screenwriter Romero offers a master class in that subject on Saturday, starting at 2 p.m.

Romero has known Library executive director Bill Harmer since high school, and then at Eastern Michigan University. Over the years they’ve shared music videos and news.

When Harmer asked Romero if he’d be interested in VersoFest, the writer suggested Spicer too. He’s been a fan of her Americana/blues/country music ever since hearing her play in an L.A. bar.

Edward Romero

Spicer’s songwriting workshop will focus on “empowering people to find their own voice,” she says. She found hers by “thinking cinematically, in images.”

Romero’s approach is more “nuts and bolts,” he says. He will show members of his workshop how to approach a script with a set of practical tools. He welcomes anyone who “wants to write, is struggling with what they’ve written, or haven’t yet cracked the (industry) code.”

Both look forward to VersoFest.

“I love events that feel grassroots,” Spicer says, “and towns that support the arts.”

“I know how proud Bill is of his library facility,” Romero adds. “It’s so cool what goes on there.”

A lot more will go on starting Thursday, of course. Click here for the full VersoFest schedule of concerts, workshops, panels, a vinyl fair and more.

(From Verso Fest and the Levitt Pavilion to Westport musicians and school concerts, “06880” keeps you up on local entertainment news. Please click here to support your hyper-local blog. Thank you!)

Westport Library: 5 Stars, Top 2% In US

Westporters know that our library is great.

Now, the rest of the nation knows it too.

The Westport Library has just been honored with the highest score possible: a 5-star rating from Public Library Service’s 2022 Library Journal Index. 

It’s the only 5-star library in the Library Journal Index.

Of the 5,359 public libraries assessed last year, only 85 received 5 stars. That vaults the Westport Library into the top 1.6% of public libraries in the U.S.

“We are overjoyed to receive this distinction,” says Bill Harmer, executive director of The Westport Library.

“This recognition validates and celebrates the engagement of and high value that our community places on the services that this Library provides, and the hard work and dedication of our staff, board of trustees, and our donors and volunteers — those who enable us to imagine and execute our programs and realize our vision to make The Westport Library a community gathering space and a hub for innovation.”

The Westport Library is filled with offerings day …

Harmer also offers “a huge thank you to the hundreds of people who come to the library every day and provide the input we rely on to make sure we’re meeting the needs of Westporters, and all visitors throughout Fairfield County and beyond.”

In determining its ratings, the Journal — America’s oldest library service publication — compares institutions with similar annual expenditures. Scores and ratings are based on circulation of physical materials, circulation of electronic materials, library visits, library program attendance, public internet users, Wi-Fi sessions, library website visits, and usage of online content like databases.

The Westport Library performed particularly well in several categories, including library visits, program attendance and website visits.

“In so many ways, this confirms what we’ve long known: that the Westport Library is not only an invaluable community resource, but also one of the finest libraries in the nation,” says First Selectwoman Jen Tooker. “It is clearly one of the primary reasons Westport is the best place to live, work, and play in the region.”

… and night. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

The Westport Library began in 1886 as a reading room in downtown Westport, moved across the Post Road in 1908 after a donation from Morris Jesup, and moved to its current location along the Saugatuck River in 1986.

In 2019 the Library underwent a “transformation project” that reimagined the space to provide more accessibility, adaptability and flexibility.

After a drop in attendance during the height of COVID, the Library has returned to full programming. Daily attendance has surged, with more than 400,000 visitors expected in the current fiscal year.

Urban Scholars Youth Program May Forge Suburban Ties

It’s hard being a Westport middle schooler.

Navigating academic and social pressures in class, then during a gantlet of after-school sports, tutoring and other activities — it’s a perilous journey discovering who you are, and who you wnat to be.

But being a middle school student in Bridgeport is exponentially more difficult.

Options and opportunities are much more limited. Meanwhile, the burdens — financial, family and the like — are far greater.

Fortunately, there is the Urban Scholars After School Program.

Run by LifeBridge — a remarkable community service organization — Urban Scholars is an after-school STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) program with an important SEL (social emotional learning) component.

Drawing 6th through 9th graders from throughout Bridgeport to a bright, colorful facility in the city’s West End, it offers a welcoming, loving, challenging — even life-changing — home for 3 hours every day.

And it’s completely free.

Urban Scholars provides art, robotics, music (guitar, piano, drums), performing arts, science, dance, yoga, and special interest clubs like baking, games, cosmetology, community service and sports. There is tutoring and homework help every day too.

Teachers, social workers, AmericCorps VISTA workers, volunteers, interns and working artists all help. They expose dozens of boys and girls to opportunities they’d never get, like working with robots or playing a musical instrument.

One of the 2 music rooms.

They urge them to try new things, and encourage every success. They model teamwork and leadership. They help participants with self-esteem, relationships and managing emotions. 

They are, literally and figuratively, “life bridges” at a crucial time in children’s development.

Youngsters hoping to be part of the Urban Scholars program are interviewed; so are their parents, grandparents or other guardians. The directors work with those adults are partners, making sure attendance is regular and any issues are dealt with together.

Things that Westporters take for granted, like transportation, can be big barriers to participation. Participants walk, ride bikes, are dropped off, or ride city buses. Staff members accompany them to bus stops. Small details like that mean a lot.

Staff members in the robotics lab. One of the student-designed robots is on the right.

I know all this because Bill Harmer arranged a tour last week. The Westport Library executive director is committed to sharing his institution’s many resources, with partners that align with its mission.

He is exploring ways that the Westport Library can collaborate with LifeBridge and the Urban Scholars program.

“Our donors, staff and board believe in sharing,” Harmer says. From the Verso Studios, StoryFest and music festivals to its people, he wants the Library to reach out beyond its physical walls.

Ultimately, he hopes that youngsters from Westport and Bridgeport can collaborate — and perhaps other towns too.

Last week’s tour was eye-opening. Program officials proudly showed off the bright rooms on 2 floors of the LifeBridge building. Three working robots sat on lab tables. Student art decorated the walls (a larger mural program is in the works). Musical motifs encourage exploration in 2 rooms filled with instruments. The tutoring center includes both small tables and an adjacent “quiet room.”

Students’ art work is displayed throughout the building. (Photos/Dan Woog)

The Urban Scholars program runs through the summer too. This year, nearly 120 boys and girls took part.

Though families pay nothing — a big reason so many children are able to participate — the program is expensive. The school-year program budget is approximately $800,000; the summer one is another $200,000.

Funding comes entirely from grants, individual donations and AmeriCorps VISTA.

It’s less than 10 miles from the Westport Library to the Bridgeport Urban Scholars After School Program at LifeBridge. If Bill Harmer’s vision comes true, that distance may soon be even shorter.

(To learn more about the Urban Scholars After School Program, click here, or contact CEO Edith Boyle: eboyle@lifebridgect.org; 203-368-5550. To donate, contact Lori Goertz: lgoertz@lifebridgect.org; 203-368-5581.   

(LifeBridge also runs a community closet, with free clothes, school supplies, books, infant goods and more. Once a month, every member of an Urban Scholar’s family can choose three complete outfits. It’s also open to everyone getting any services through LifeBridge. To learn more bout the community closet and other LifeBridge programs — including how to donate –, watch the video below, and click here.)

(“06880” is “Where Westport meets the world.” To help us do that, please click here.)

Library Re-Purchases Controversial Book

A controversial book on transgender issues will soon be back on the Westport Library shelves.

Last month, after “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing our Daughters” was taken out of circulation, a group of residents accused the Library of “political censorship.” They asked the Library to re-purchase it.

The Library said the book by Abigail Shrier was rejected by the Purchasing Committee because it included misinformation about scientific studies on transgender issues, and omitted other information.

The residents called the decision “unacceptable and most likely unlawful.” 

Today — noting that the Library’s appeals process works as intended — executive director Bill Harmer says the book has been re-evaluated. It will be re-purchased.

The decision was announced in an email to Alessandra Gordonos, who made the original complaint. Harmer said:

In accordance with the Library’s Challenged Materials Procedure, the Library has reevaluated the book in question in the context of the Library’s Collection Development Policy.

As a result of this reevaluation, the Library has made the decision to re-purchase the book for the Library’s collection.

The Library is committed to its mission of empowering the individual and strengthening the community through dynamic interaction and the lively and open exchange of ideas.

In furtherance of its mission, the Library also is committed to the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, and The Freedom to Read Statement of the ALA Council and AAP Freedom to Read Committee.

The Library is committed to making available books and materials that promote diversity of thought and opinion, and deepen patrons’ understanding of issues.

I note that inclusion of any materials in the Library collection does not constitute or reflect an endorsement of any particular opinion, idea, or viewpoint by the Library.

The Westport Library first added “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters: to the Library’s materials collection in February 2021.

To the best of our knowledge, the book circulated only once, and was withdrawn in June 2021. In July 2021 and again in September 2021, you made separate requests for the Library to re-purchase the book for the collection.

After review, the Library’s selection committee decided not to re-purchase the book, due in part to the mixed reviews that the book had received during that summer — reviews that highlighted omitted information and misinformation from some of the results from the studies the author cites in the book.

The Library’s collection manager indicated to you that the Library had a selection of other recent books on this topic in our collection, and offered to borrow a copy of the book for you from another library.

The Westport Library’s collection is always in flux. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

In selecting materials for the Library’s collection, the Library follows its Collection Development Policy. The fact that this item was once in the Library’s collection and was then removed is not unusual, given space considerations and in keeping with Library best practices.

The Library’s collection, at any given moment, is always in flux. We are not an archive. Much of our collection comes in based on interest, and leaves — is replaced — when interest wanes. Out-of-date books, for instance, are removed by librarians, as are multiples of a book as its popularity decreases.

Library staff constantly reviews items in our collection against the Collection Maintenance criteria in our Collection Development Policy, to determine whether any items should be withdrawn.

The Library also has a Contested Materials Policy and Procedure to ensure that all patrons have an opportunity to appeal any decision reached by the selection committee — and to provide us with a complete system of checks and balances.

“Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters” has been reevaluated in accordance with the Library’s Challenged Materials Procedure. The book represents a current, diverse viewpoint on culturally significant subjects (gender identity and expression, gender dysphoria, being transgender, adolescence, and development) that are relevant to the community. The book and its author have gained widespread public attention and are relevant to the contemporary discourse concerning the subject matter of the book.

The Library recognizes that public response to the book has been divided; that the book endorses theories concerning gender identity and gender dysphoria that are controversial and disputed; and that the book’s accuracy and objectivity have been challenged.

In reaching this decision, the Library also takes into account the extent to which other materials addressing gender identity and expression, gender dysphoria, being transgender, adolescence, development, and related topics are available in the Library’s collection, as well as the Library’s commitment to providing materials that reflect a diversity of thought and opinion.

The Library’s collection includes more than 100 physical books, over 900 e-books, and other materials concerning these subjects, rounding out the body of information available to patrons and permitting patrons to educate themselves, test ideas, draw conclusions, and make their own, informed decisions abou what to read and believe.

The Library’s collection is dynamic. Materials in the Library’s collection are subject to ongoing evaluationm and may be retained or withdrawn by the Library as circumstances change or warrant. Decisions concerning the development and maintenance of the Library’s collection will continue to be guided by the Library’s Collection Development Policy.

I also reiterate that inclusion of materials in the Library collection does not constitute an endorsement by the Library of any particular viewpoint, idea, or opinion.

Thank you for taking an active interest in the Library’s resources. Please feel free to contact me directly with any further questions you may have