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.
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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
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.
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?
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.
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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: firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Like the Westport Library, “06880” relies on donations. Please click here to support this blog.)
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.
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.”
(“06880” brings you stories like this, thanks to reader support. Click here to chip in.)
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.”
The Westport Library’s logo is familiar — and flexible.
The ellipsis promises “more to come… .” It shows up in many elements of the new building (including the Forum clock — check it out the next time you’re there).
The three dots also appear near the lower entrance. That was last week’s Photo Challenge (click here to see). It was quickly and correctly identified by Andrew Colabella, Lynn Untermeyer Miller, Robert Mitchell, Seth Schachter, Suzanne Warner Raboy, Barbara Durham and Michael Turin. All win a free library card 🙂
This week’s Photo Challenge is a bit different. If you know where in Westport you could see this, click “Comments” below.
Plenty of “06880” readers remember Westport’s original library: a gift from Morris Jesup. Built in 1908 on the corner of the Post Road (then called State Street) and Main Street, its original name was the Morris K. Jesup Memorial Library. He died just 4 months before its dedication, after donating both the land and $5,000 for construction. (Today it’s just east of the downtown Starbucks; the coffee shop occupies part of a 1950s addition.)
Many other readers moved here after the Library moved across the street in 1986, onto landfill by the Saugatuck River. (The present library was “transformed” from the first building there; it reopened in 2019, a few months before COVID shut it down.)
No matter how long they’ve lived here though, more than 2 dozen readers knew that the “Open To All” sign shown in last week’s Photo Challenge was part of the lintel hanging over the main door to Jesup’s library. (Click here to see.)
It stopped serving as the entrance after that ’50s renovation, causing reader Suzanne Wilson to note the irony of “Open To All” over a closed door.
But she joins Bob Grant, Martin Gitlin, Jeff Jacobs, Lawrence Zlatin, Robert Mitchell, Katherine Golomb, Sandra Rothenberg, Richard Hyman, Cindy Zuckerbrod, David Sampson, Lois Himes, Scott Brodie, Rosalie Kaye, Stephen Axthelm, Andrew Colabella, Clark Thiemann, Michael Calise, Patty Gabal, Mary Annn Batsell, Linda Amos, Rindy Higgins, Pete Powell, Fred Cantor, Janice Strizever, Bruce Salvo, Jeanine Esposito and Barb Sherburne as Westporters who, at least occasionally, take their nose out of a book (or their ears off a cellphone), and look up at the architecture that surrounds us.
This week’s Photo Challenge is one of 2 similar images, sent a few days apart. So I know it’s not too obscure.
Bill Ryan sent one; here’s the other. If you know where in Westport you’d see this, click “Comments” below.
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