Tag Archives: Library Journal

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.

Maxine Bleiweis: Life After The Library

Last year, Maxine Bleiweis announced her retirement. After 17 years as director of the Westport Library — and for 18 years before that, doing the same job upstate — her many fans and friends wondered how she’d handle the transition to “consultant.”

It’s been nearly a year, and the answer is: pretty well.

Maxine Bleiweis

Maxine Bleiweis (Photo/Stacy Bass)

So well, in fact, that Maxine has done something very librarian-like. She’s written about her experience for Library Journal.

In a piece called “Letting Go While Hanging On,” Maxine admits that being a library director was “all I knew.”

I was used to having ideas, throwing them out to a group, seeing them put into action, and developing direction and policy for institutions that had impact on the community. I stayed for more than 15 years each at two institutions, which meant I had hired a majority of the staff and knew every mover and shaker in the area. I was accustomed to having a title and a position in the community.

She could have been lonely. She could have looked over the new director’s shoulder.

Instead, she made a new life — while letting go of the parts of her old one that she needed to.

Maxine offers 10 lessons. They describe her post-Westport Library life. But they’re a blueprint for any other boss who’s changing any career they’ve been in for a while.

For example, Maxine writes:

Don’t be tempted to go back to say hello or give advice. You’ve handed over the reins to someone else: free that person of your shadow. It’s enough that your past memos and emails and name on annual appeal letters and newsletters are in evidence. Your presence is felt without you actually being there….

After retiring, Maxine Bleiweis keeps her distance from the Westport Library.

After retiring, Maxine Bleiweis keeps her distance from the Westport Library.

Don’t keep up with anyone without permission. Start out at a distance through Facebook. You’ve been their supervisor, not their colleague. There may be some who want to develop a different relationship, but you should think about what they might report back to their coworkers and how that might translate on the job. If you have a relationship, avoid speaking about work, and don’t offer opinions.

Being untethered brings new opportunities, including spreading the library word when it is not expected. You can observe from an outside vantage point and have a better perspective about why the library isn’t on the minds of people the way you want it to be. You can write letters to the editor without worrying that you are taking sides politically. Being on the “outside” is both refreshing and jarring.

She also describes how she gets her reading fix without going into the library; learns not to apologize for leaving the non-profit world; rearranges her  schedule; creates a new work environment, and spends time doing things she never had time for.

Nowadays -- in between consulting work -- Maxine Bleiweis has time for herself. However, she does not spend it in a Westport Library reading room.

Nowadays — in between consulting work — Maxine Bleiweis has time for herself. However, she does not spend it in a Westport Library reading room.

Maxine concludes:

Was all of this easy? Not a chance. I’m fortunate that my consulting work and family took up time and energy and made up for some of the loss I felt. I still look at my email too many times a day and wonder why I’m buying “work” clothes when I have more than enough.

Check back in another year, and I may have conquered the rest of the library director habits.

(To read the entire Library Journal story, click here. To learn more about Maxine’s consulting business, click here.) 

Westport Library Names New Director

And the new Maxine Bleiweis is — William Harmer.

The Michigan librarian — one of 2 finalists introduced to the public last month — takes over as Westport Library executive director on July 27.

William Harmer

William Harmer

In a press release, the library called Harmer “an experienced and innovative leader in the library field.” He spent the past 6 years as director of the Chelsea District Library, after serving 3 years as head of adult services.

The Chelsea website calls it the “best small library in America.” That’s no idle boast: The selection was made by The Library Journal and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Library Journal also named Harmer to the Class of 2009 Movers & Shakers — emerging leaders from around the world making a difference in the library field.

The “Movers and Shakers” writeup — titled “Buzz Master” — said that in 2005, Baldwin Public Library (Birmingham, Michigan) teen services librarian Harmer “became nationally known for the buzz he created with his Rock ’n’ Roll Library Tour. A former DJ, Harmer convinced the Detroit-based band The High Strung to take its act to Michigan public libraries and then to over 200 libraries in 48 states.”

The story continued:

Now, as head of adult services at Chelsea District Library (CDL), he’s generating buzz around such programs as a senior “lock-in” and “A Day in the Life of Chelsea,” in which seniors document their town using library-provided disposable cameras. Chelsea Senior Center director Tina Patterson says, “Some days I feel we need a leash or a butterfly net to keep up with him.”

Harmer helped CDL earn LJ’s 2008 Best Small Library in America Award with his aggressive outreach to community organizations, including a grant for a 6-year local oral history initiative.

William Harmer leaves

William Harmer leaves “the best small public library in the country.”

Harmer came late to librarianship, which means, he says, “I didn’t have any previous conceptions, so there were consequently no boundaries.”

But he does more than just push boundaries. Former CDL librarian Elizabeth Goldman says that “once his ideas come—and they do with startling frequency—he not only brings them to fruition but shares them.” In fact, he’s starting a business called Black River Group, which combines consulting and program planning for libraries.

Buzz is contagious. Stand next to Harmer, and you’re likely to catch it.

In 2013, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation chose Harmer as one of 120 world library leaders to attend its global conference on the future of libraries in Cape Town, South Africa.

This year, the Chelsea District Library was cited by the area Chamber of Commerce for its support of local economic development, and its focus on community-building programs and services.

Harmer has also served on the Board of Directors of the Michigan Library Association and as president of the Rotary Club of Chelsea. He has been a  keynote speaker at many library-related conferences, including the Ontario and Alaska annual conferences and at the University of Illinois.

“I am delighted to be joining the talented team of library professionals at the Westport Library; an organization that exemplifies what a world-class, 21st century library can be,” he say.

“I look forward to getting to know the staff, our patrons, developing collaborative relationships with organizations and leaders throughout the community and building on the exceptional work of Maxine Bleiweis.”

William Harmer swoops into the Westport Library on July 27. (Photo/Dave Elgart)

William Harmer swoops into the Westport Library on July 27. (Photo/Dave Elgart)

Mike Guthman, president of The Westport Library board of trustees, says, “Bill Harmer possesses the intellectual, creative and entrepreneurial spirit that is at the heart of the Library. He comes to us with the experience, talent and leadership skills to maintain the Westport Library at the forefront of innovation, and to propel the Library into its next phase of development and transformation.”

Harmer began his library career in 2001. He has held leadership positions at libraries in Farmington and Birmingham, Michigan. He earned a bachelor of arts in literature and creative writing from Eastern Michigan University, and a master’s in library and information science from Wayne State University. He is married, and has 3 children.