With renovations, Westport Library turns a new page

Westport News writes:

WESTPORT — After two years of construction, the Westport Public Library finally reopened its doors to a crowd of more than 100 people.

Library Executive Director Bill Harmer, who moved from Michigan to Westport four years ago, said he remembered sharing with his staff his vision for the library’s reopening, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a filled Jesup Green overlooking the Saugatuck River.

That vision came to fruition, when Westport residents flooded the deeply etched stairs at the back of the building, which had been closed in early June to finalize the two-year transformation. The ribbon cutting marked the end of a more than 10-year, $21 million project paid for by state, town and personal donor funds.

The construction caused the library staff to get creative, meeting in the offices of the Christ & Holy Trinity Episocopal Church, restaurants and even in their own homes.

After the ceremonial yellow ribbon fell to the floor, the horde of people entered the building, invited by a bookstore gift shop called “The Hub” to their right and a massive, 500-plus seating forum space to their left, capable of housing possible plays, conferences, keynotes and even fashion shows.

The esteemed guests of the day ranged from Gov. Ned Lamont, state Sen. Tony Hwang, Coney Island Circus Sideshow sword swallowing Adam RealMan, pianist Frederic Chiu, the Westport/Weston Family YMCA Dance Center and pop-up performances by Suzuki Music School students.

The meeting rooms also held interactive demonstrations like virtual reality and CPR lessons by Westport EMS.

The three-level building now features more meeting rooms, conference rooms, program rooms, a family lounge, an expanded cafe and outdoor deck, live audio and video recording studios, and an enhanced MakerSpace.

Jaina Shaw, a librarian there since 2006, said while people may be wowed at the audio and video studios, Shaw is most excited for the newly improved flexible working spaces.

She said places like a library can be a hangout for teens, but in Westport there are places like Toquet Hall. That’s why it became important to create an environment that allowed for collaborate working spaces.

Staff realized students had not just been coming to work on finals, she said, but also group projects and to study sessions. The lack of space to do so in places like Starbucks and Barnes & Noble created a big need, she said.

Those needs were reflected in the changes, like the teen corner which features booths and an academic lounge area.

Above all, Shaw said she is most excited to have enough space for students to work and just be.

“A library is the last public place in America where you can be all day without being expected to buy something,” Shaw said.