Community reading programs have been around for a couple of decades.
A local organization — usually the library — picks a book. The entire town is encouraged to read it. Book clubs and other groups discuss it. The result is dialogue, awareness around a particular idea, community spirit.
We do things differently here.
For years, WestportREADS has centered not around one book, but a theme. Last year it was the 19th Amendment, and the centennial of women gaining the vote. Before that, it was immigration.
In 2019 folks of all ages read, discussed, thought about and grew through “Exit West,” Moshin Hamid’s novel about two refugees who find life and love on the run.
Unlike other places, our event does not last a week, or even a month. This year — well, 2021 — WestportREADS runs from January through May. There are speakers, films, art exhibits, music performances, educational opportunities — you get the idea.
Not even COVID can slow it down.
The Westport Library — longtime driving force behind WestportREADS — has announced the topic, and the books.
This year’s theme is “Towards a More Perfect Union: Confronting Racism.”
The books are The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (fiction); Caste (Isabel Wilkerson, nonfiction); Class Act (Jerry Craft, young adult), and I Am Every Good Thing (Derrick Barnes, elementary school).
Programming kicks off on Sunday, January 17 (12 noon). Layla F. Saad — an East African, Arab, British, Black, Muslim woman and author of Me and White Supremacy — headlines the 15th annual Martin Luther King Day celebration. TEAM Westport’s Bernicestine McLeod Bailey will lead the discussion.
Layla F. Saad
Click here to register. More programs will be announced soon.
In past years, the Library has bought hundreds of copies of the book selections. They’ve distributed them throughout town, and made them available in their building.
The coronavirus complicated that task. So the Library has invested in digital versions and audiobooks. They are, however, providing hard copies to The Residence at Westport, the Gillespie Center, and schools.
“It’s called a ‘community read’ for a reason,” says Library executive director Bill Harmer. “All I did was pick the theme. This year it was a no-brainer. We really count on our partners to help plan what we do.”
WestportREADS is co-sponsored by the Westport Country Playhouse, TEAM Westport, the Westport Public Schools, Westport Weston Interfaith Council and Clergy, and Westport Museum for History & Culture.
Posted onMarch 13, 2020|Comments Off on Library Closed Until Further Notice
Westport Library executive director Bill Harmer says:
The health and well-being of our patrons and staff is the highest priority of the Westport Library. On Thursday, we made the decision to close our doors in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Other libraries in the state also acted and now nearly all are closed.
Over the past few days, I attended meetings at Town Hall to work with local health officials on developing a plan for how the community could mitigate and contain the virus. I have talked to friends who work in hospitals and had an ongoing dialogue with the library’s board of directors.
The library hired a cleaning company to do a 2-day deep disinfectant of the building, top to bottom.
(Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
All evidence points to the fact that things are going to get worse before they get better. The virus is likely to spread exponentially and our infrastructure, especially doctors’ offices and hospitals, are woefully unprepared to handle the onslaught that is coming.
The question for every institution, business, or school is not whether we should do something, but rather what the best course of action is.
For me, containment and mitigation are the answers. The only way to truly reduce the spread of the virus is through social distancing. We did not believe that social distancing could be achieved by keeping the library open.
Therefore, we have decided that the library will remain closed until further notice. Our book drops will also be closed, and we are waiving all late fees on Westport owned materials.
The library offers extensive downloadable and streaming digital resources, eAudiobooks, eBooks, eMagazines, music, movies, and many other entertaining and educational resources are available to all cardholders. Click here for links to the digital collection.
Last year, Jeff Pegues arrived early for a book signing.
The 1988 Staples High School graduate — who rose through the broadcast ranks and is now CBS News justice/homeland security correspondent — had published his second book, Kompromat: How Russia Undermined American Democracy.
He sat in his car at the Saugatuck Congregational Church, watching dozens of people arrive. It was a bigger crowd than in many major cities.
“I was humbled, and struck by how many Westporters are interested in information beyond the headlines,” Pegues says.
“That’s not always the case. And it troubles me.”
When the Westport Library — which had sponsored his talk off-site, during its renovation project — wrote a thank-you note, he started thinking what more he could do.
He’s a fan of New York’s 92nd Street Y, which sponsors a long-running, provocative speakers’ series.
Pegues lives in Washington, DC. But his hometown — and hometown library — retain strong holds on him.
Would the library be interested in a series of interview/conversations with intriguing newsmakers? he wondered.
Would we ever! replied executive director Bill Harmer.
With a generous donation from Christian J. and Eva W. Trefz, the Newsmakers Series kicks off on Saturday, January 25 (7 p.m.). The first guest is Mo Rocca, noted CBS News correspondent, podcaster and TV personality.
It takes place in the soaring Forum — which, thanks to a previous $1 million gift, already bears the Trefz name.
Quarterly events are planned. Pegues will help bring intellectuals, foreign policy experts, politicians, actors, artists, athletes and other newsmakers to Westport — and will moderate each. His job is to help the audience “understand who they really are.”
Pegues is enthusiastic about the project.
“The library is a destination for ideas,” he notes. “And it’s important for newsmakers to come to a town with so many influential people.”
As a journalist, he notes, he often asks questions like “how did you get here?” What, for example, motivated the child of a single mom in Akron to not only become a basketball superstar, but to speak out about topics most athletes would not touch?
LeBron James would be a perfect candidate for a Trefz Newsmaker evening, Pegues says.
Rocca — the first interviewee — has “a unique take on people,” Pegues says. “He has an incredible ability to mix news judgment with a comedic touch.”
Rocca’s resume includes 4 seasons each with “The Daily Show” and Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show”; the “Mobituaries” podcast and book (an irreverent but well-researched appreciation of intriguing things past), and current gigs on both “CBS Sunday Morning” and NPR’s “Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me!”
He’s won 2 Emmy Awards — one fewer than Pegues.
“Westporters should have access to people like Mo,” Pegues says. “They want clarity and insights.”
He looks forward to helping provide it — in a place that is particularly meaningful to him.
“Westport is a huge part of my upbringing,” Pegues says. “My parents moved here in the late 1970s for 2 reasons: the minnybus, and the library.”
The townwide transportation system — whose hub was Jesup Green — is long gone.
In 1986, the library moved to its new location, next to the green. A few months ago, it reopened in a transformed, 21st-century way.
Next month, Jeff Pegues helps the Westport Library become even more special and vibrant than it already is.
(General admission tickets for the 1st Trefz Newsmakers Series on January 25 are $35, and include a copy of Mo Rocca’s “Mobituaries” book. VIP tickets are $100, and include a private reception with Rocca, and preferred seating in the Forum. Click here for tickets.)
The Westport Library’s Transformation Project has been a daring adventure.
For nearly 2 years, officials masterminded a top-to-bottom (literally) metamorphosis of an already great institution. In less than 3 weeks they’ll cut the ribbon, opening it officially to the world.
Last night, a couple of hundred folks got a sneak peek.
The opening reception, prior to Frederic Chiu’s performance.
Library officials took the bold step of scheduling — as their first event in the new space — their signature fundraiser of the year.
Booked For The Evening is a night of fine food, socializing, and honoring a noted member of the literary or arts world. Expectations are high.
The library had never tested its innovations before a live audience. High-tech video and sound systems; a beautiful Yamaha Disklavier piano that can play itself; the vaunted grandstand seating — all rolling out for the first time ever.
Frederic Chiu accompanies himself on two pianos. To find out how, read on.
It was one of the best Booked evenings ever.
The stunning reception area; the new performing arts space; the flow, the ambiance, the energy — it was all there, just as the hundreds of men and women who had worked for so long on the project hoped (and prayed).
Westport LIbrary director Bill Harmer and Sybil Steinberg, contributing editor and former book review section editor for Publishers Weekly, enjoy the event.
Frederic Chiu — the world-renowned pianist and longtime Westporter — gave an inspired performance.
In keeping with the theme of the night — and the Transformation Project’s emphasis on creativity — there were wonderful touches.
The audience voted to see an alternative (happy) ending to Prokofiev’s “Romeo & Juliet” ballet, performed by dancers Marlon Grigsby and Harlee Trautman, as Chiu inaugurated the new piano.
Chiu then played a movement from Philip Glass’s “4 Movements for 2 Pianos,” with his protégé Timo Andres.
WSHU classical music host Kate Remington served as “Booked for the Evening” MC.
There were video — and live — tributes to the honoree.
Then, the finale: Chopin’s “Rondo in C Major, Opus 7 for 2 Pianos.” Chiu did something he’s never done, in his long career: He accompanied himself. The magic came courtesy of the Yamaha; one part was recorded weeks ago.
It was a warm, varied and community-minded evening. It flowed easily, and flawlessly.
Grandstand seating proved popular — and grand.
This morning, everyone who was there is talking about Frederic Chiu — and the newly transformed Westport Library.
It will be booked — by proud, pleased patrons — for decades to come.
(The ribbon-cutting and opening ceremonies for the new library are Sunday, June 23. Festivities begin at 11 a.m., and last until 4 p.m.)
Frederic Chiu: star of the show. (All photos/Dan Woog)
In its 21 years, Booked for the Evening — the Westport Library’s signature fundraising event — has brought many big names to town.
Tom Brokaw, Martin Scorsese, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Patti Smith, Alan Alda and others have enlightened and entertained us, on the cramped main floor.
But now the library’s Transformation Project is almost complete. Stacks of books have been replaced by a Forum — a dramatic event space framed by a state-of-the-art stage and screen.
This year’s Booked for the Evening is the first chance for the public to see the transformed library. Organizers needed an extra-special honoree, someone as compelling as the new space itself.
Frederic Chiu (Photo/Chris Craymer)
They did not have to look far. Frederc Chiu — the internationally acclaimed, award-winning virtuoso pianist, collaborator, innovator, entrepreneur and Westporter — will inaugurate the Forum’s stage.
And he’ll do it using a spectacular new piano, with a great back story. But more on that later.
Chiu has performed on 5 continents, in all 50 states, and with orchestras like the National Symphony in Washington DC, the China National Symphony and the BBC Concert Orchestra Symphony. He has collaborated with friends like Joshua Bell.
But he’s also our neighbor.
Chiu’s introduction to Westport came in 1986, when he won the prestigious Young Performers International Competition (now named for Heida Hermanns) here.
In the 1990s he lived in Paris. Whenever he played in New York, he visited his friend Jeanine Esposito here. After they married, Westport — with its arts heritage, and proximity to New York and Europe — seemed like a perfect place to be.
Chiu loved the Westport Library. He researched music and travel. He checked out CDs, DVDs and books. And whatever he could not find, the staff tracked down through interlibrary loans.
Jeanine Esposito and Frederic Chiu, at home. That’s where they host their eclectic Beechwood Arts Immersive Salons.
Esposito, meanwhile, helped then-director Maxine Bleiweis develop the next phas of the MakerSpace.
Current director Bill Harmer has impressed the couple too. Recently, he announced that the library will be the winter home of Chiu and Esposito’s Beechwood Arts Immersion Salon series.
“Today, libraries are community hubs” Chiu notes. “They’re places to create bonds, where people can communicate. And they’re accessible to all.”
Chiu is excited that the Westport Library is expanding that mission by including the arts in its transformation. Audio and video production have dedicated spaces, next to the impressive new stage.
On Tuesday, June 4, Chiu’s Booked for the Evening performance debuts not only that stage, but also the library’s new Yamaha Disklavier piano.
It’s an astonishing instrument. Besides its marvelous sound, the piano is a technological marvel. It can play 50,000 songs (like a player piano). It also connects with any other Disklavier anywhere in the world.
And with its video capabilities, it allows Chiu to do something he’ll showcase on Tuesday: He can play a duet with himself. He’s chosen Chopin’s only work for 2 pianos.
Here’s looking at Chiu: The pianist stands in the Forum, while a video of him playing plays on the high-def screen behind the stage.
That’s just one piece of Chiu’s performance. He’ll play with Timo Andres, an award-winning young pianist/composer.
He also brings his interactive production of Prokofiev’s popular “Romeo and Juliet: The Choice” ballet to the stage. At the end, Booked guests vote for either the tragic conclusion, or the composer’s little-known happy ending.
But back to that Yamaha piano. It’s a gift from Stacy Bass and her brother, David Waldman. It honors their mother, Jessica Waldman, who died in January.
The donation has special meaning for Stacy, who helped start Booked for the Evening 21 years ago.
“My mother was passionate about theater and music,” Stacy says. “David and I wanted to give something to the library that really represents her. The piano will be part of the stage. She will live on every day.”
Frederic Chiu, at the beautiful new Yamaha Dislavier piano. It’s a gift from Stacy Bass and David Waldman, in honor of their mother Jessica. (Photos/Dan Woog)
Last week Chiu sat at the piano, in the still-unfinished Forum, and smiled.
“I’m being honored, and I’ll be onstage. But the soloist is always the instrument and the music. I do my best to put them out front. I’m of service to great music, and a great piano.”
Chiu notes that when the piano was invented more than 300 years ago, it “brought music to the masses. It was as much an innovation as the printing press and computer were, for bringing information to the public. Playing it is unlike any other activity people can do.”
No one plays better than Frederic Chiu.
And there is no better choice for Booked for the Evening, to inaugurate the Westport Library’s new age of arts and innovation.
(For more information on the June 4 Booked for the Evening, including tickets, click here.)
Westporters reacted with fury to yesterday’s announcement that the River of Names mural will not be re-hung in the Westport Library.
Most of the dozens of readers responding to the “06880” story expressed chagrin that the 26-foot long, 6-foot high mural — whose 1,162 tiles represent 350 years of Westport history and memorials to families, and which was commissioned as a 1997 fundraiser — will reappear only in digitized form.
Some commenters asked for their tiles back. Others wondered if the mural — removed during the Transformation Project — was already destroyed.
The River of Names was hung in the lower level of the Westport Library.
Some readers also wondered why no library representatives stepped forward to respond.
This morning, they did.
Original plans for the transformed library included a spot for the River of Names, say director Bill Hamer and board of trustees president Iain Bruce.
It was to be located on the upper level, outside the children’s library near new meeting rooms. It’s a high-traffic area, just beyond the elevator and at the top of stairs. The mural would be well-lit, visible from the main level — and in an area where new generations of youngsters could learn Westport’s history from it.
Library officials presented the idea to 3 key River of Names stakeholders: Betty Lou Cummings, who conceived the project; Dorothy Curran, who shepherded it through, and Marion Grebow, the artist who created every tile.
They objected adamantly. The reason: It would wrap around a corner, on an “L”-shaped wall. They believed that would destroy the “river” design. They insisted it be remounted on one straight wall.
“We were sensitive to their feelings,” Bruce said. “We did what we had to do all along: We took it down.”
This view from the main floor looks toward the childen’s library above (behind the portholes). Library officials proposed hanging the River of Names nearby. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
The wall on the lower level of the library no longer exists. The mural had to be removed and stored in one piece. Individual tiles cannot be taken apart.
The library hired Crozier Fine Arts, a professional moving and storage company. They carefully took the mural down (including the wall it is permanently part of). They preserved it, and are storing it in Ridgefield under climate-controlled conditions.
The cost to the library is $30,000 so far.
After the 3 originators told the library it could not be rehung on 2 walls, town arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz searched for a spot in another building.
However, Harmer says, “it can’t just hang on any wall. It’s very, very heavy.” To accommodate the mural, an existing wall would have to be demolished and rebuilt, or reinforced — at an expense considerably more than it cost to remove it. No town body was willing to pay.
“The library is committed to cooperating with any town agency or other body that wants to install the tile wall on its premises,” Harmer says.
However, an outdoor location like the Levitt will not work. The tiles were not made to withstand New England weather. If they got wet and froze, they would shatter.
The River of Names includes tiles for places like the original Westport Library, and others honoring families, local businesses and historic events.
“It was never our intention to have an irate public,” Bruce says. “A digital version seemed most logical, once we could not hang it in the library, and no one stepped up with an appropriate alternate place.”
“It was not sledgehammered,” he continues. “It is being carefully stored.”
In fact, Harmer says, the wall outside the children’s library was designed — and has been built — with the mural in mind.
“We told Betty Lou and Dorothy yesterday that it could still go there,” the director says. “We’re sorry we came to a crossroads. We’ve invested a lot of money and hours into trying to do the right thing. It’s a question of balancing the wishes of the original sponsors against our desire for an appropriate space.”
Bruce adds, “If they came back tomorrow and said they supported our original proposal, we’d do whatever we could to make it happen.”
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)
There are 2 ways to do the New York Times crossword puzzle:
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.
In the summer of 2016, over 500 people had their “geek moment” at the Westport Library.
Talented family and portrait photographer Pam Einarsen snapped them, as they held or wore objects identifying their particular passions. The “I Geek…” project portrayed an astonishing array of talents and interests, all of which the library encourages and helps us fulfill.
Among our geeks: human biology, burgundy, Harry Potter, Greek Islands, Toquet Hall, astronomy, break dancing, coffee, archery, knitting, astronomy, the Green Bay Packers, folk music, dragons, baking, and sleeping.
It all ended with a big party. The Great Hall was filled with food, entertainment — and Pam’s compelling portraits.
Now she’s at it again.
This time, when library users sit for their photos, they’re asked for 3 descriptors. Pam’s images, and those self-identifying phrases, are then shared on the library’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.
David Pogue says “I am a dad. A showoff. A softie.” (Photo/Pam Einarsen)
It’s part of the library’s goal — in the midst of its Transformation project — for folks to imagine how the library can help them, in entirely new ways.
“What are you passionate about?” library director Bill Harmer says the “I Am…” campaign is asking.
“And how can we work together, with you and your passions, in this great new space?”
Mary Brown’s “I Am…” photo on Instagram. She says she is “an art historian, obsessed with music, and a Fireball Island master.” (Photo/Pam Einarsen)
The new library, Harmer adds, is “all about building community, and creating spaces where human beings can interact.”
More photo sessions will be scheduled soon. Check the library website for details.
Hey — it’s me! To find out my 3 descriptors, you’ll have to wait until the library posts this on social media. (Photo/Pam Einarsen)
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