Tag Archives: Westport Library

Groundbreaking Near For Exciting Library Project

It’s not a “renovation.” Nor is it a “remodeling.”

On August 1, the Westport Library breaks ground on a “transformation” project.

Through 21 months of construction — during which it remains open for use — the 31-year-old building will be reimagined, top to bottom.


The stark and dark lower level — currently home to the video department, offices, the cramped McManus Room and a few offices — turns into a place of light, nature and activity.

The lower entrance off the Taylor parking lot will be spiffed up and enclosed, resulting in great river views. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The offices facing the river will be recaptured for patrons’ use — with larger windows, to enjoy the view.

Right now, offices, doors and a stairwell prevent patrons from enjoying the nearby river. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The functional Taylor parking lot entrance becomes more welcoming. A 2nd entrance — midway up Jesup Green — offers another access to the main level.

The result of all this is a better visual and visceral connection between the library, the river and the green.

A rendering of the new Jesup Green entrance. It will lead patrons into the upper level about where the graphic novels are located now.

The DVD/BluRay collection — accounting for 35% of the library’s check-outs — moves to the main floor.

So does the very popular McManus meeting room — where it will be 4 times larger.

The main level — the one accessible now only from the Levitt Pavilion lot — undergoes a mind-boggling transformation.

The cafe expands threefold. With more food choices, an outdoor terrace, a new connection to the Sheffer Reading Room and a special entrance allowing it to be used after hours for events like author and poetry readings, this area can become an actual destination.

Right now, the gift/store area is cramped — and so is the cafe behind it. A greatly expanded — and more flexible — cafe is in the works. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The newspaper and magazine reading rooms — with their gorgeous river views — remain. But mobile furniture makes them more flexible.

The hulking service desk gets revamped, to be more open and inviting. Director Bill Harmer calls the area next to it “The Hub,” where staff members offer assistance.

The area near the massive circulation desk becomes much more user-friendly. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The main room gets acoustic tiles, helping noise and aesthetics. Dozens of power outlets will line the perimeter.

But that’s only the start.

A raised floor will be built over the art display kiosks (which are actually air intake vents, too costly to move). The grandstand will be similar to Times Square. Harmer envisions similar excitement, interaction, dreaming and activity.

The Great Hall will include grandstand seating, over the current art exhibit kiosks (which actually hide air intake vents). Stacks will move downstairs.  The area near the windows will be reimagined, providing great views of Jesup Green. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

A giant LED screen and excellent sound system add to the possibilities.

A rendering of the grandstand.

The current book stacks move one floor below, freeing up room for what Harmer calls “open, flexible community forum space.” With room for 500 people (and a large screen), it’s a spot for collaborative work, and large programs.

A “forum” replaces stacks on the main floor. It’s a flexible space for collaboration and programs, with a large LED screen at the rear. This rendering shows the view toward the police station.

The entire space can be cleared if needed, for exhibitions or trade-type shows.

The Maker Space has already been disassembled, and reopened temporarily on the top floor. It will reappear — in a larger form — where the reference section, offices and computers are now. It too will have an after-hours entrance.

Harmer describes the new area as “community-oriented hacker space.” Laser cutters, lathes, power tools, sewing machines and kilns will allow for even more than tinkering, robotics, coding and 3D printing.

“We’ll provide the tools of invention,” Harmer says. “We’ll bring the community together to create magic.”

Sounds interesting, but noisy?

No problem: It’s all sound-proofed.

The old Maker Space has been disassembled. The new one will be even better.

The nearby recording studio will be sound-proofed too. “It’s not Abbey Road,” Harmer apologizes. But — designed by Rob Fraboni, an audio engineer who has worked with the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, the Band, the Beach Boys, Eric Clapton and Joe Cocker — it will offer another immersive experience for patrons.

Seven conference/study rooms — more than double the current 3 — will be loaded with technology.

The new McManus Room is planned for the far end of the main floor — closest to the police station — where the stacks are now. Windows will brighten that now-dark corner of the library.

Library director Bill Harmer in the far end of the main floor. Newspapers and stacks will move downstairs, giving way to grandstand seating, an LED screen, the new McManus Room and a recording studio. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Upstairs, the balcony comes out another 5 feet. That provides “box seats” for all that goes on below, while easing the current hallway space crunch.

A much-improved waiting area outside the children’s department is planned. And the nearly unusable balcony will be widened substantially. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The Children’s Department gets an extreme makeover too. More natural light, and a bit of reconfiguring of shelves, enlivens that important area. Giant porthole windows will enable kids to look out over the Great Hall.

Small windows in the children’s section — where shelves now line the wall — will give way to large porthole windows. The Robert Lambdin mural will be moved elsewhere (as will the River of Names tile project, now downstairs). (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The price tag for all this is $19.5 million. The town of Westport provides a quarter of the funding. The other three-quarters comes from individual, foundation and corporate donations (including a $1 million state grant).

The library has raised all but $4 million of what’s needed. Bridge financing is already in place.

The Westport Library sits on some of Westport’s most beautiful — and valuable — real estate.

It’s also one of our town’s most used — and valuable — resources.

Less than 2 years from now, the library will be “transformed.”

The project will transform more than the building, and Jesup Green around it.

It will transform all of downtown.

And all of us, too.

Right now, a few areas of the library work well. Views from the children’s department, and the 1st floor Sheffer and magazine reading rooms, will be retained. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

(To learn more about the Westport Library transformation project, click here.)

Photographers Needed! Shoot “A Day In The Life Of Westport”

“06880” posts one Pic of the Day, each day.

But the Westport Library hopes for hundreds — on one special day.

All Westporters — professional and amateur; old and young; native and newcomer; those with Nikons and those with iPhones — are invited to take photos at any time (or all day) on Wednesday, June 21.

That’s the summer solstice, so there should be plenty of light.

Shoot anything, or anyone. The only requirements: It must be somewhere in Westport. And use a high-resolution setting.

Send your 3 best images — one at a time, at the largest option offered — to dayinthelifeimages@gmail.com. Put your name and “Westport” in the subject line.

Photos chosen will be featured in the library’s Riverwalk hallway (lower level) from July 3-21. An opening reception is set for Thursday, July 6 (6:30 p.m.).

So on June 21, go for it.

Give it your best shot!

If you’re up early on June 21, you might get a shot like this. (Photo/Dave Curtis)

Pic Of The Day #54

Googly eyes at the Westport Library return box. (Photo copyright Lynn U. Miller)

Alan Alda Booked In Westport

The largest crowd in the 19-year history of the Westport Library’s “Booked for the Evening” fundraiser listened, laughed and learned with Alan Alda last night.

After video clips from many admirers — including former Westporter Marlo Thomas, and the Chilean doctor who saved his life in 2003 — the actor/singer/director/activist/humorist/humanist (as introduced by Westport actress/singer Cynthia Gibb) took the stage.

Speaking without notes — but with tons of energy, his trademark smile and a clear love for his subjects — Alda wove together his ideas about communication, empathy, science and wonder.

A small portion of the large crowd that enjoyed Alan Alda last night at the Westport Library.

There was plenty of audience participation — even a couple of opportunities to test out his theories on active listening.

The final episode of M*A*S*H — which Alda co-wrote — drew a record audience. It still stands.

More than 3 decades later, the record library crowd understood why.

At a pre-event reception, Alan Alda jokes with Larry and Martha Aasen.

Photo Challenge #125

Westport Library patrons are smart people.

Last week’s photo challenge — Jerry Kuyper’s intriguing shot of the shadows cast by a sculpture on the wall of the upper level library entrance — was quickly identified by Elaine Marino, Leigh Gage, Seth Schachter, Dominique Dwor-Frecaut, Kris Nash, Valerie Kermoal, Melody James, Audrey Doniger and Amee Borys. (Click here for the photo, and all guesses.)

Maxine Bleiweis added the fun fact that the sculpture — called “Walter” — was created by Westonite Carole Eisner. “It looks like something Naiad Einsel might have done,” Maxine said, referring to the mis-identification of the sculptor by some readers.

Maxine should know. She’s the former director of the library.

Ed Simek sends along this week’s challenge. I have to admit: I didn’t think I’d ever seen it before. But it’s another one of those pieces of Westport hiding in plain sight.

Bonus challenge: Tell us the family this memorial is named for! Click “Comments” below.




Daniel Lanzilotta’s Trashy Art

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Which means there are tons of treasures downtown.

Take, for example, the little green (and non-biodegradable) plastic stirrers you get with your Starbucks coffee.

Daniel Lanzilotta says they cause havoc when they get into storm drains, and the nearby Saugatuck River.

So he makes them into sculptures.

That’s just one way he turns “street debris” into art. He’s got many other pieces — and they’re on view right now in the Westport Library Riverwalk (lower level) display case. Fittingly, it’s just a few steps from Starbucks.

Daniel Lanzilottsa wears one of his creations.

On Wednesday, May 31 (6:15 p.m., McManus Room) the library hosts a reception for Lanzilotta. He’ll give a talk on environmental issues at 7 p.m., followed by a discussion with Earthplace representatives.

The topic: How Westport can address and remedy some of the issues raised in his talk.

Lanzilotta is the right man for the job. An artist, environmentalist and chef, he’s seen this town from many different angles.

As a member of Celebrate Westport, he helped create the Farmers’ Market with Michel Nischan. Lanzilotta also helped design First Night Westport’s “Trashin’ Fashion” program for kids.


“My work brings consciousness into the waste stream,” Lanzilotta says.

In downtown Westport, he finds all the inspiration he needs.

(For more information, click here.)

Moving Morris

This morning’s “06880” story — about Miggs Burroughs’ “Signs of Compassion” photo project — noted that it’s the last exhibit in the Westport Library’s Great Hall before their transformation project begins.

The library will remain open during the renovation. But preparations are already underway.

Art throughout the building is being packed up and stored.

Next Friday, it’s Morris Jesup’s turn.

The iconic bust of the library’s founding patron will head to Town Hall, where he will chill out for the transformation duration.

From left: Carole Erger-Fass, Christine Timmons, Judy Auber Jahnel, Morris Jesup  and Kathie Motes Bennewitz. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Before he goes, the library invites fans to come by, and take your photo with the old guy. In the photo above, library staffers and town arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz show how it’s done.

Photos can be shared on social media. Use the hashtag #Moving Morris.

He looks austere. But don’t be put off.

Morris Jesup is down for anything.

Miggs Burroughs’ Signs Of Compassion

You have to hand it to Miggs Burroughs.

The Westport artist — whose long career includes Time magazine covers, a US postage stamp, and pro bono work for every local organization that ever existed — has just completed a compelling new project.

Like many of us, Miggs is fascinated by signers — the men and women who use American Sign Language to interpret speeches for hearing-impaired people. He’s amazed by their speed, as well as the variety and movements they make with their hands.

Three years ago, he created the “Tunnel Vision” exhibit that enlivens the pedestrian walkway  between  Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza. With his specialty — lenticular photography — Miggs used Westporters’ hands to show a variety of Westporters’ experiences. The photos change dramatically, depending on where you stand.

Miggs Burroughs, in his “Tunnel Vision” creation.

As he thought about the ASL signers, he realized that by slowing down their movements, he could use lenticular photos to portray their grace and beauty.

Online, he found an ASL dictionary. Users type in a word; up pops a video of its sign. As Miggs watched in slow motion, his idea took shape.

Meanwhile, America’s political climate was heating up. Miggs wondered how local artists would react. He’s always believed creative folks do what they can — however they can — to make the world a better place.

Miggs turned the focus of his new project toward finding a poem of manageable length.

Emily Dickinson

He doesn’t read a lot of poetry. But when his son attended Hampshire College, he lived across from Emily Dickinson’s house.

Miggs found a poem of hers, called “Signs of Compassion. The title is perfect.

Miggs planned to photograph a teenage girl — fellow artist Nina Bentley’s granddaughter — signing the entire poem. But Chris Timmons of the Westport Library — where Miggs serves as artist-in-residence — suggested using a variety of people in town.

“That was the key,” Miggs notes. “Now we have representatives of the entire community talking about compassion.”

Miggs mined his many contacts to find models. Nearly everyone he asked said yes. The 30 photos he used include whites, blacks and Asians. There are young Westporters, and old. First Selectman Jim Marpe is one model. I’m another.

I signed the word “I.”

How did we know what to do? Noah Steinman — then a WAC staffer, now at the Aldrich — knows ASL.

Miggs used his iPhone to film Noah signing the poem, while explaining each motion. Miggs then broke every one into 2 distinct gestures.

He photographed each model doing both gestures. Under every photo is Dickinson’s poem, with that particular word or phrase highlighted.

Dereje Tarrant signed “without.”

The result, Miggs says, is “not an exhibit of 30 different photos. It’s a visual chorus of our community expressing the need for compassion in the world.”

This will be the last Great Hall exhibit before the library transformation project begins. (The library itself will not close.)

In its silence, it speaks volumes.

(The opening reception is Friday, May 26 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The exhibit is on display through July 27. For more information, click here.)

Jeanine Esposito signed “not.” (Photos/Miggs Burroughs)

This Is What Our Librarian Looks Like

Jaina Shaw is the Westport Library‘s popular and creative teen services librarian.

She’s also very cool.

Now she’s famous too.

In 2014, photographer Kyle Cassidy published a series of photos on Slate. Called “This is What a Librarian Looks Like,” the images — of black, white and brown men and women; some with multi-color hair, dreads, beards and piercings — pierced the stereotype of the staid sssshhhh-monster.

The feature was so popular, Cassidy set up a booth at the next American Library Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas.

Jaina was there, and wandered by. She wrote a statement, posed for a photo — and now she’s in the book that Cassidy just published.

It too is called “This is What a Librarian Looks Like.”

Jaina Shaw, with her page (left) in the book.

Jaina’s quote is this:

When I went into librarianship, my friends and family said, “Aren’t you a little loud for that?” But libraries need to have loud people.

Growing up, I went to the library almost every day and nobody ever asked my name. I want to make that experience different for teens. I want them to feel that they’re important – that what they read or watch or play or geek out to matters. I want them to know that there’s a place where they can be themselves.

Libraries don’t grade you or judge you or care that you have the right Uggs or whatever. Just be yourself. We are here for you.

Jaina is certainly there for every Westport kid.

Patrons of all ages love her.

Thanks to Kyle Cassidy, everyone who buys this book will love her too.

Check Out This New Library “Seeding”

Of course, you can check out books at the Westport Library.

And — though purists once shuddered at the thought — you can also borrow CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays.

In fact — just like Alice’s Restaurant — you can get almost anything you want at our library.

Including seeds.

Two years ago, the Westport Library began offering organic seeds. Folks loved it.

Seeds are stored in an old Westport Library card catalog, near the reference section.

Now, the Westport Farmers’ Market has donated over 75 packets of heirloom and open-pollinated seeds to the Westport Grows Seed Exchange and Library. (“Borrowers” are encouraged to donate back to the program.)

The heirloom seeds — saved for generations by local farmers and gardeners — add to a collection that already included organic seeds from noted growers like High Mowing and Baker’s Creek.

The donation comes after the Farmers’ Market launched its own seed-saving program in February. The response was overwhelming. With thousands of seeds left, it was an easy decision to give them to the library — the market’s neighbor, across the Imperial Avenue footbridge.

Gardeners, farmers, homesteaders, chefs — and everyone else — is invited to stop by the library.

Browse a catalog at the entrance to the reference section.

Then “check out” — literally — a stunning variety of open-pollinated, heirloom or organic species of fruit, vegetables and flowers.

(For more information click here, or email director@westportfarmersmarket.com)