Tag Archives: Westport Library

We Give Thanks For …

What are you thankful for?

That’s the question I posed last week.

Plenty of “06880” readers responded. Family, friends, community, health — the emails poured in.

When we all sit down tomorrow for Thanksgiving dinner, we’ll give thanks for many things. Among them:

The minute the moving truck left us on our first day in Westport in 1999, our friends Dee and Herb Appleman took us to the Library. I felt instantly at home, and have been devoted to it ever since. My sense of belonging grew as I met people through WestportREADS, guest lectures, hands-on workshops, art openings, concerts, contests, student performances, and PJ Story Time. (Do they still do this? My daughter is now 25!) My heartfelt thanks to all the staff, volunteers and fellow devoted patrons of the Westport Library. (Kerstin Rao)

(Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

  I am thankful for another year that has seen our efforts to Save Old Saugatuck — a neighborhood of homes and history — from destruction at the hands of an uncaring developer. We’re a community, not a commodity. (Carolanne Curry)

I am thankful to have a home in Westport, even if only part time. It is about the place, but more about the people, plus a focus on all the arts, the shoreline, the physical beauty, the diverse intellects and energies. (Rosalie J. Wolf)

The family of teen non-speaker Wynston Browne’s epiphany that he is not intellectually disable, but a fully verbal “speller,” gifted, and readying to contribute to the world. (David Browne)

I am so thankful for the Westport Senior Center. They offer many classes and lectures that keep our senior minds active and social. With the Senior Center, old age would become boring and depressing. (Scott Kuhner)

Closed today.

 Grateful to still have the love of my life after her aorta spontaneously “dissected” last February (and the surgeon who saved her!). This is the still largely unacknowledged connective tissue disorder that stole John Ritter and Jonathan Larson. ERs must learn to more quickly detect this hidden killer that masks as a “non”-heart attack. (Anonymous)

I’m thankful my sisters and mom live in Westport, so I can visit often. (Laura Lehman)

I am thankful to be able to honor the Osage Nation land that I am privileged to live on. I honor the Osages who died while trying to live on this land in Oklahoma, and other parts of this area. I have gratitude for the growin powers of rich soil, rain and sunshine, and for farmers and thosoe who work in the food chain to bring the food that we eat. I honor the indigenous peoples whose lives we have shattered so that we white folks can celebrate “Thanksgiving.” The Native Americans call it “thanks taking.” (Lucy Weberling, Staples High School Class of 1961)

I’m thankful to h

Our family is so grateful to the teachers who have taught our children over the years!  All the way from the first preschool teacher (who taught us parents as well as our child) to the teachers at Staples who have taught them subjects we parents could never teach them.  We are deeply indebted to every one of them — the incredibly inspiring music and art teachers, Science Olympiad coach, paraprofessionals who added so much friendliness to the days, school psychologists, incredibly patient custodians who helped countless times to look for lost items, principals who learned everyone’s name, librarians, cafeteria workers, nurses, secretaries who looked after the children and us parents and made such significant differences so many times over.  There are so many people who worked way harder than their job description required and were so generous with their time, caring, empathy in addition to their commitment to impart knowledge and love of learning. (Anonymous)

The late head custodian Horace Lewis was just one of the many Westport Public Schools employees who earned our profound thanks.

ave grown up in Westport in the 1950s and ’60s. I am thankful I went to Berkeley in 1967. I’m thankful I had the chance to travel around the world a bit. I’m thankful for all the friends I have made and kept. (“With lovers and friends I still can recall/Some are dead and some are living/In my life I’ve loved them all.”) I’m even thankful for the grief. I am thankful I met my husband 44 years ago, and that we now live here in Westport. It turns out for me, you can go home again. (Ellen Naftalin)  

While having my family healthy, happy and in town for the holiday is always my most joyous celebration, this particular season I am proud the concerted efforts to extinguish our democracy by a minority group of fascists has been wholeheartedly rejected by my fellow Americans. The voters of this nation have restored my faith in our ability to self govern. I am proud to witness the endurance of democracy. The 4th of July 2023 holiday should touch everyone’s heart a little more than usual. It will for me, and for this I am also thankful. (Joseph Vallone)

From poet S. J. Miller: “Autumn leaves falling/Winding their way down/Like the first foliage of the first fall/Praise for the colors/Praise with elation/God’s recreation/Eden recalled.” I’m so grateful for the rhythm of life: Divine order. For the diversity we experience in our daily lives and the faith that carries us through. One truth, many paths. (Susan Joy)

The coaches of the Police Athletic League football program, along with the Staples varsity team, having the best year in ages. Big game on Thanksgiving! (Adam Vengrow)

I am thankful for life. I nearly died in 2020. My surgeon told me a year later that he gave me a 1% chance of survival. He told my sister and brothers “She will die.” I had sepsis, and my entire system was crashing. I was intubated, on a feeding tube and God knows what else. I was out of it for 2 months. One of my brothers urged my twin sister to “pull the plug.” The doctors dubbed me the “Miracle at Meriden.” I will spend Thanksgiving by myself, but that’s okay. I usually decorate for Christmas on Thanksgiving, which gives me something useful to do. (Barbara Sherburne)

I’m thankful for today. I’m thankful for family, friends, health and home. I’m thankful I’m an American. (Claudia Jensen)

Old friends — and there is double meaning to that. Friendships that go back more than half a century are indeed special. I am also thankful to have spent the second part of my childhood and a significant part of my adult life in a place with so much beauty, along with such wonderful local resources and history. And I am thankful to have had so many wonderful and special teachers and coaches, like Jack Finn at Coleytown Junior High School, who gave a late bloomer like me a chance to blossom and pursue my passion. (Fred Cantor) 

The 1966 Coleytown Junior High School soccer team. Fred Cantor is in the 2nd row, 2nd from left (white shirt); coach Jack Finn is in back.

I’m thinking a lot about how good my life is. A childhood friend just died of a brain tumor. I think about how random it is to get sick, and die. No guarantee for longevity. I have my health, my family, many activities that I enjoy, a satisfying volunteer life. I can’t think of anything that I need or want. I try to help those less fortunate. So my Thanksgiving is a day to reflect, and be grateful for all the blessings in my life (Jalna Jaeger)

For many years I walked most mornings with a close friend, at Old Mill Beach. I’m grateful for all my years in Westport, for the many friends I made, and for the wonderful school system and great teachers. About 3 years ago I was struck with a lung illness that changed my life in a flash. I’m now on oxygen 24/7, and spend most of my time at home. I’m grateful my condo has no steps, and that I have a nice-sized patio. I’m grateful I can have outdoor visitors 8 months a year. Some friends even visit in the winter. I’m grateful for my 2 air purifiers with HIPA filters. I went through a period of denial (believing I would get better), mourning, and am now working on acceptance. I miss traveling home to see childhood friends. I am so grateful that friends and neighbors still stop by to visit. I’m grateful to my part-time helpers, and all the delicious healthy food I can order from The Pantry. Also on my gratitude list are my reflexologist and Pilates/gyrotonic teacher. who come to my home to work with me. (Anonymous)

Our family, including our puppy, our friends, those passed and present, and for my ability to think critically, learned in part at Staples High School. (Charlie Taylor)

I’m thankful for my family, for the new friends I have made this year and the old friends I still have around me. I am thankful for the new generation that has come to Westport to keep us going in the right direction. (Bobbi Essagof)

I’m grateful for the feeling of gratitude itself. It helps me my life in perspective, and to be caring and empathetic to the world around me. (Rindy Higgins)

I am so grateful to have discovered Westport. After having experienced a full life, living in many places in the world, I have settled in a place where I am surrounded by civic-minded, passionate people — farms and farmers’ markets, great dining, and all surrounded by water, with which I have a deep spiritual connection. Thank you Westport, for the many comforting things you offer. (Claudia Sherwood Servidio)

(Photo/Claudia Sherwood Servidio)

I am profoundly and enduringly grateful to the friend (who we now consider family) whose generosity of spirit motivated him to save my husband Robert’s life by donating his kidney. Robert and I fell in love as teenagers, and just celebrated our 44th wedding anniversary. Now we will be able to live, love and grow old together thanks to a living donor who unexpectedly stepped forward without even being asked. Whatever brought us together when he happened to see me crying is a miracle. Forever we will be thankful for this act of kindness, compassion and sacrifice. (Robin Frank)

Photo Challenge #410

Several “06880” readers quickly nailed last week’s Photo Challenge.

Phil Kann’s image showed the soundproofing — aka “baffles” — on the Westport Library’s south wall, near the Trefz Forum stage and Verso Studios.

But they didn’t get the whole story.

As Phil notes, the acoustic foam actually includes certain letters. And the letters spell out a phrase.

His photo showed the letters “ET.” (Click here to see.) They’re part of the words “MAKE – MEET –WORK –REA D.”

“Brilliant crypto messaging,” Phil says.

And that’s just part of a number of hidden designs incorporated into the Westport Library’s Transformation Project. As is true with so much about one of our town’s favorite places: There’s far more there than meets the eye.

Seth Schachter, Martin Gitlin, Ken Kantor, Scott Brodie, Clark Thiemann, Will Gibson and Paul Cahill all identified the baffling. Next time they — and you — are there, “check out” the entire wall.

This week’s Photo Challenge takes us back outside. If you know where in Westport you would see this ineffective and abandoned-looking gate, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Johanna Keyser Rossi)

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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.)

“06880” Podcast: “Jazz Rabbi” Greg Wall

Westport is filled with very intriguing people, doing very interesting things.

At the top of any list is Greg Wall. The “Jazz Rabbi” leads the Beit Chaverim modern Orthodox congregation. His side gig: He’s an internationally known jazz saxophonist.

From a shul in the East Village to Carnegie Hall; from the Torah to Miles Davis, and (of course) from his synagogue on Friday nights to jazz at the VFW Post on Thursdays, the Jazz Rabbi does it all.

The other day, we sat on the Westport Library Verso Studios’ stage. He talked about his journey from suburban Boston (spoiler alert: he was not observant) to suburban Westport, plus all the religious and musical stops in between.

I asked about the intersections, challenges and joys of his 2 lives. I also asked about his other interests (spoiler alert: he’s a sailor too).

Click below for our fascinating conversation.

“06880” Podcast: Jay Norris

I’ve welcomed a few dozen extremely interesting guests to “06880: The Podcast.” But there’s never been one with quite the background of Jay Norris.

He’s helped market the careers of Notorious BIG, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Pink, Toni Braxton, Alicia Keys and many others.

He’s an innovative business leader. He knows tech, media, retail and real estate.

Jay brings people together. He builds inclusive communities. In his 6 years in Westport, he’s made a mark here. And — in new positions, like Westport Library board member and co-founder of Westport10, for Black families — he’ll make this an even better, more exciting and more inclusive town.

Click below for our fascinating half hour chat.

(“06880” is supported solely by readers. Please click here to kick in!)

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

Check Out These Library “Things”

Once upon a time, the Westport Library was only about books. (And — because so many artists and illustrators lived here — a noted collection of prints too.)

In the 1980s, the Library began offering DVD. Purists howled. “That’s Blockbuster’s job!” they said. (Of course, you can’t beat free. Naysayers soon became some of the biggest patrons. And where is Blockbuster today?*)

Then came the MakerSpace. Prime main floor real estate was given over to computers, tools and a first-of-its-kind 3D printer. The noise level rose. So did user engagement.

Today the Westport Library offers many things. There are still tons of books; still DVDs (and CDs and vinyl); still a Maker Space; . Plus cutting-edge TV and audio studios; a 19-foot state-of-the-art screen, and equally killer sound system; a store, café and more.

Plus a “Library of Things.”

It’s not the most elegant name. But there may be no better way to describe all the “things” the Library lends.

Westport Library employees Kathleen Malloy and Brendan Toller, with a few “things.’

The Library of Things is found along the right-side (upper parking lot) wall, on the main floor. Extending from near the entrance all the way to Verso Studios (interrupted only by restrooms), it’s shelf after shelf of stuff to check out.

Sewing machines, battery testers, puzzles and games, metal detectors, waterproof speakers, bubble makers, a 45-cup coffee urn, ukuleles, phone and car chargers, a Hello Kitty cake pan, CD players, Zoom ring lights, MIDI-controlled keyboard, button makers, smartphone lens kits, golf range finder, SAD therapy lights, field microphones, portable projectors, a Nintendo Switch — they’re all there.

A kayak, cornhole games and disc golf sets are not there. They’re too big. But they’re available too.

And every one of those “things” is free. All you need is a library card.

More things!

Sign your thing out, and keep it for 10 days. (21 if it’s something like a sewing machine or ukulele, helping you learn a skill.)

Who wants to check out a thing?

Everyone.

Families who need a projector for an outdoor movie. Bands making buttons for an upcoming tour. Someone seeking hidden metal treasures at Compo or Sherwood Island. People creating their first videos. A person who bought a new car without a CD player, finishing an audiobook. Grandparents whose grandchildren will be visiting soon.

Folks are “stunned” when they realize all that’s hidden in plain sight, says Kathleen Malloy, the Library’s manager of patron experiences.

Available items are right there on the shelves. (Except for that kayak and those outdoor lawn games.) Things that have been checked out — and all the high-tech Verso things — are represented by photos.

Things on the wall near Verso Studios. (Photos/Dan Woog)

A walk along the Library of Things is like going to an all-you-can-eat buffet — with every cuisine, each one next to another in random order.  You’ll find things you never you needed or wanted, things you never knew existed, and things a friend would love (if they only knew it was here).

People have found the Library of Things through word of mouth (and a mention in the Library’s monthly publication).

Once they find it, users come back. And they offer idea. Many new items come from patrons’ suggestions.

Westporters have always loved our library. But it’s hard to imagine someone in 1908, or 1958 — or even 2008 — saying, “Excuse me. Can I check out a kayak today?”

Today, it’s the thing to do.

*In Westport, it’s a Hartford HealthCare center.

(Like the Westport Library, “06880” relies on community support. Please click here to help.)

Read All About It! The Library Book Sales

For over a decade, the Westport Library’s Summer Book Sale was a hot event.

For a few days, thousands of book, magazine, CD and vinyl lovers thronged an enormous tent on Jesup Green. Paying prices that decreased each day, they emerged with armfuls, boxfuls and (it seemed) semi-trailerfuls of stuff.

Early bird collectors — who resold what they bought at profits — jostled with readers of all ages: parents with young kids, teenagers, older folks who probably had 15,000 books already.

It was a great Library fundraiser.

The Westport Library book sale. (Photo/Dan Woog)

It also took a ton of work. Armies of volunteers were needed to set up the (expensive) tent, monitor the flow and collect the cash.

And the “hot” event was literally that. Everyone sweltered. (Jesup Green didn’t look so hot itself, once the tent was dismantled.)

COVID put an end to the Summer Book sale. It has not returned.

But used books are as hot as ever. And the Library has adapted in several ways.

Westport Book Shop — across Jesup Green from the Library — has established itself as a premier spot for used books. Open every day except Monday, it’s a lot less hectic (and cooler in summer) than the tent. Its mission to employ people with disabilities adds to its importance. 

The Westport Book Shop.

The Book Shop sells online now, and through eBay. (That adds a new element: shipping. Books are stored, and prepared for shipping, offsite near the Cottage restaurant.)

There are still “book sales.” They’re twice a year, in spring and fall — inside the Library. The next one is November 11-14.

Westport Library book sale.

Volunteers are still vital. And no one has worked harder, or longer, for the Library’s book sales than Mimi Greenlee.

For over 20 years, she’s helped them grow and evolve. Her current role is managing inventory for the store and the sales. She works inside a trailer outside the building, in the upper parking lot.

The Westport Library book sale donation trailer.

It’s quite an operation.

Donors bring piles of books. (Including dumping them outside when the doors are closed, which shouldn’t be done.)

Some people haul in hundreds of volumes.

Volunteers sort the donations into 60 categories. There are big ones (Fiction, Mysteries, History) and smaller (Military, Judaica).

Managers decide the most appropriate place for each: the store, or the sales. They price each volume too, using online tools.

Mimi Greenlee, surrounded by donations.

Not every donation is acceptable.

“People can’t throw away their own books,” Mimi says. “Unfortunately, some of them are moldy, from years in the garage or basement.”

Other books have broken spines or binding.

“Some people just don’t look at what they’re donating,” Mimi adds. “It happens a lot when they’re cleaning out a parent’s house, or moving quickly.”

The recycling bin comes in handy for those.

Even donations in good condition are not always acceptable. “We don’t take encyclopedias. Nobody wants them anymore,” Mimi explains.

Also unneeded: Magazines (“unless they’re very valuable”), VHS tapes, audio cassettes, and “outdated computer manuals.” Few textbooks make the grade.

Mimi wishes potential donors would ask: “Would I give this book to my grandmother?”

Because grandmothers — and grandfathers, moms, dads, kids, and everyone else in the area who can read — want used books.

But not the ones they’ve just thrown away.

(Volunteers are always needed — for sorting and other help, and at the book sales themselves. Email Mimi Greenlee for details: grmimi@aol.com)

(Like the Westport Library, “06880” relies on donations. Please click here to support this blog.)

Jay Norris: Community Builder Puts Talents To Work

Jay Norris was called”The Tastemaker.”

Working with unknown musicians signed by Clive Davis to Arista Records, he’d head to an unfamiliar city. He’d find a venue; put influential journalists, artists and political figures together, and ride the buzz that followed. Norris developed marketing strategies for Notorious BIG, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Pink, Toni Braxton, Alicia Keys and many others.

He created “cultural currency,” he says. “It’s all about getting the right people in the room.”

Now the Westport resident looks forward to doing the same thing here. As a new Westport Library trustee, he brings great creativity, tremendous energy — and a vast network of remarkable friends and colleagues.

In a town filled with interesting people, Norris stands at the top of the list.

The Detroit native turned down a swimming scholarship to Stanford in favor of Howard. He majored in sociology, and was fascinated by both human behavior and pattern recognition.

Jay Norris

That served him well, in the music industry. He studied artists and audiences. He promoted music — a subjective task — but always quantified the results.

In 1997, Norris Norris founded Tastemakers Media. It forged strategic partnerships between the music industry and lifestyle brands.

He branched into real estate investment, management consulting, and a curated retail platform for Detroit makers and innovators. In 2018 Norris co-founded Guesst, a software platform that helps property owners find complementary brands for their retail locations. He’s now CEO of the firm.

Six years ago, Norris and his wife Crystal were living in Brooklyn. With 3-year-Jacob soon to enter school; they started thinking about options. Crystal knew Connecticut through relatives. The couple explored a variety of cities and towns.

On a beautiful summer day, they drove to Compo Beach. “I felt something I’d never felt anywhere,” Norris recalls. “The vibe from people was different from anywhere else.”

He saw only 2 other Black people. That was enough to convince him he could live here.

As they searched for homes, there was just one must-have: walking distance to the train station. They found a perfect spot, 5 minutes away.

Three months ago, a Westport YMCA swim parent introduced Norris to Westport Library director Bill Harmer. Like matches Norris had made in music, there was instant chemistry.

He and Harmer talked about the Library’s cutting-edge production studios, and its innovative programming. As they discussed Westport residents’ interests and talents in art, film and fashion, Norris grew excited.

He’d been to the Library only once before. But he was hooked — by the building, and by Harmer’s “north star thinking.”

“The Library is such an added value to Westport,” Norris says. “It’s a cultural innovative hub.

“Schools in Westport nourish our kids. The Library does that for the public. It brings people together, helps us find our common denominator, and points us forward.”

It functions too as a community event space. By “community,” he hopes residents of neighboring towns will come too, to see all that Westport offers.

Norris points to the Library’s inaugural Verso Fest, a music-and-media festival held in the spring. Bridgeport educator/activist Walter Luckett brought a group of teenagers to the inspirational keynote by actor/writer/producer/martial artist Michael Jai Wright.

But Norris is not limiting his ideas to youths. As Westport’s own Shonda Rhimes proved at last month’s “Booked for the Evening,” the Library can inspire people “from 5 to 100.”

Jay and Crystal Norris flank Shonda Rhimes, at “Booked for the Evening.”

Norris hopes to tap into his broad network  — men and women in film, fashion, sports and the media — to “bring subject matter experts into the room with influencers.”

He knows some of them, around the nation. He knows many others are here in town, waiting to be asked.

“We can do this!” he says excitedly. “Our lens is really broad. The best part is that Bill is really open to this. There’s no ceiling. He and the board want to hear all ideas.”

If you’re concerned that Norris has not yet mentioned a library’s traditional raison d’être — books  —  he says: Don’t worry.

During a Zoom interview with the current board, a woman said: “I like you. But I love books.”

Norris replied: “I hear you. I don’t want to change anything you love. I want to enhance it. We’ll send you targeted emails. We’ll customize things, so you can learn about what you want to read, when you want to read it. We’ll create programs that add to your experience, not detract from it.”

Norris’ community-building efforts don’t stop with the Library. In the summer of 2020 — right after George Floyd was killed — he and Crystal, a broker with William Pitt Sotheby’s, sat at Bartaco with another Black couple. They noted the lack of Black faces here.

Norris did what he does best: He brought people together. He created Westpor10 — a social community for people of color. Adults attend cultural events, and dine out together; they organize beach parties and other events for their kids.

Jay and Crystal Norris, with their children.

Norris also mentors an A Better Chance of Westport scholar, helping bridge the gap between the teenager’s home town, and his new community of Westport.

Jay Norris has a lot on his plate. But — echoing the title of a gold record by Celine Dion, an artist he once promoted — he’s a master at “taking chances.”

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Little Rock 9 Hero Inspires Library Audience, Students

Near the end of Carlotta LaNier’s talk at the Westport Library last night, she described the first time she told her story publicly. It was at a high school in a white suburb of Denver.

When she was done, a boy said in astonishment and anger, “I’m in 11th grade. How come I never knew about the Little Rock 9 before?”

Most of the audience here had probably heard of the Little Rock 9. But most — like me — also had just a vague notion of who they were.

We’ve seen somewhere — though maybe not in social studies class — photos of 9 young Arkansas students, as they integrated Central High School in 1957. The most iconic is this:

That’s Elizabeth Eckford — not Carlotta. But she’s in this image:

She and 8 other teenagers were escorted to and from Central High by members of the 101st Airborne Division. They were called out by President Eisenhower, after Governor Faubus and the Arkansas National Guard failed to allow black students into the all-white school — 3 years after the Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in schools was unconstitutional.

Even the presence of soldiers in the halls could not stop 2,000 white students from pushing and tripping the Little Rock 9. They could not stop the white kids from putting gum on the black kids’ seats, or throwing water on their clothes.

The soldiers could not prevent Little Rock from closing every school the entire next year, in a desperate attempt to stop integration. And they certainly could not stop adults from bombing Carlotta’s house when she was a senior, or other adults from firing Carlotta’s father, and the parents of other Little Rock 9 students, from their jobs.

But the white students could not stop history. And no one could stop Carlotta from graduating on May 30, 1960 — with honors.

Although this photo shows the Little Rock 9 studying, the reality was different, Carlotta LaNier says. Because all 9 were in different classes — and because they had no white friends to call for study help — they were on their own for schoolwork.

She told her powerful, inspiring — and, though historic, still all too real today — story on the Library’s huge screen, from her Colorado home. The event was moderated by Steve Parrish, A Westporter for 3 decades, he is a longtime friend of Carlotta’s sister, Tina Walls. In 2017, Steve wrote a deeply moving story for “06880” about the 60th anniversary celebration of those September 1957 days.

Introducing last night’s event, TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey called Carlotta — the youngest member of the Little Rock 9 — “one of America’s heroes.” He too made history come alive, describing his own excitement when, as a child in Tennessee, he learned in his all-Black school that integration would now be the law of the land.

TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey introduces Carlotta Walls LaNier. (Photo/dan Woog)

Carlotta spoke of her own childhood. She swam in segregated pools, checked books out of a Quonset hut library, and climbed rickety stairs to reach her segregated movie seats.

But she spoke too of the Black teachers — many with master’s degrees — who pushed her to study and work hard, and her parents who did the same.

As she moved on, to talk about the harrowing first month trying to walk through the storied doors of Central — at the time, one of the top 40 high school in the country — and of the lonely 3 years that followed, many in the Library audience felt anger and shame. Many of the hundreds watching at home no doubt felt the same.

Carlotta LaNier on the Westport Library big screen. Steve Parrish (right) led the discussion. (Photo/Dan Woog)

It took 30 years from those days for Carlotta to tell her story publicly. She did not seek the limelight, and the day after graduation she left Little Rock, vowing never to return.

But when she spoke to that high school class in Colorado, she realized the importance of speaking out. By the time of their 50th anniversary celebration in 2007, she and the other 8 students had raised nearly $1 million for scholarships.

Ten years later, at that 60th anniversary, they were lauded as heroes by many Americans — including a fellow Arkansan, former President Clinton.

But Carlotta’s final words were not about her own heroism.

Everyone can be a hero, Carlotta implied: “True heroism starts with one brave decision to do the right thing.”

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An hour before Carlotta’s presentation, she spent time on Zoom with students from Staples High School, and Bridgeport and New Haven.

The teenagers may or may not have heard of Carlotta Walls LaNier in their own history classes. But they were prepared with excellent questions.

“Can people change?” one teenager asked.

“Yes,” Carlotta said — “if they are open to accept different experiences, and learn from them. If you are true to yourself, you can learn on a daily basis.”

Central High School, 65 years ago. Despite decades of progress, race remains a deeply divisive issue in America today.

“How did your teachers treat you?”

Some did not want to teach her, and treated her badly, she said. One of the worst was a Spanish teacher.

She praised her biology teacher, who encouraged her every day. He was a Central High graduate, she noted, and a Korean War veteran.

She paused. Then she told the students: Her biology teacher was the son of her Spanish teacher. His exposure to the world outside where he grew up made all the difference.

“Can you ever forgive people?”

“I forgave them a long time ago,” Carlotta responded. “I had to. I had to stay above all that was going on. That’s how I got through it.”

The final question was about “our better angels.”

“It’s hard to find them,” Carlotta admitted. “But I know they’re out there. That’s why it’s so important to learn, and talk about, our country’s history.”

She encourages all young people to do that. Besides, she noted: “History is being made right now.”