History

Westport Library History

1886

The Westport Reading Room and Library Association is founded on February 4, 1886. It is located in a leased second floor room on the Hurlbutt block opposite what would later become the "old library building" on the Post Road East at Parker Harding Plaza. Total first year membership is 146 and first year circulation is 962 volumes. Membership costs $1.00 per year. Mrs. Frances A. Gray is the volunteer librarian and the Reading Room is open Monday through Saturday in the evening after supper. To stretch access to the small collection, borrowing is limited to Tuesdays and Thursdays.


1896

On the tenth anniversary, circulation is up to 1,513 volumes and the collection is now 1,748 books. Thanks to the generosity of Mr. Ambrose S. Hurlbutt, who offers a reduced lease of $6.00 month, the growing Library moves to the ground floor. A building fund is established.


1907

The building fund has grown to $6,000. Benefits organized by the Westport Dramatic Club, the Musical Society and the Chess Club raise funds to purchase more books for the collection.


1908

Mr. Morris K. Jesup offers to donate funds for a new library building that becomes the Westport Library. Located across the street from the original reading room, it is dedicated April 8. Thanks to his generosity and $15,000 in additional private contributions, the $6,000 building fund is redirected to an endowment and acquisition of new books for the Library’s growing collection.

The Westport Reading Room and Library Association incorporates as The Westport Library Association and elects its first board. The Town of Westport initiates an annual appropriation of $1,000 to the Library and receives the power to elect three directors to the Library’s executive committee.


1916

Library marks its 30th anniversary as Mrs. Edith Very Sherwood becomes head librarian.


1938

Circulation is 47,648 books, a doubling since the end of World War I. The Library is open 11 hours per day, Monday through Saturday. The children’s department receives a gift of $1,000 from the Bedford Foundation to furnish an informal reading and discussion area.


1945

The Library’s collection has grown to 23,000 volumes including 5,000 in the Children’s Department. Annual circulation reaches 45,000 volumes. Forty percent of Westport citizens hold library cards. They borrow an average of 10 books per year. The Library subscribes to 30 periodicals and the phonograph collection contains 50 records.

The annual Library budget is $11,000, of which $8,000 is covered by Town of Westport appropriation. Fines, rentals and income from the Library’s growing $39,000 endowment cover the balance. Two-thirds of the annual budget goes to compensate the 3 full-time and 1 part-time Library employees. Westport’s population is 11,000.


1946

Constance Collins succeeds Edith Very Sherwood, who has been Head Librarian for 29 years.


1947

The Friends of the Westport Library organization is created, headed by the aptly-named Charme Speaks.


1949

Eleanor Street succeeds Constance Collins as Library Director.


1956

In July, the library expands into a new wing facing the Saugatuck River.

In December, the Library accepts the pictorial research file of Albert Dorne, President of the Famous Artists School.  The file consists of 500,000 clippings.


1959

Library Director Eleanor Street and author Peter DeVries greet early morning commuters with books at the railroad station in the Wake Up and Read program.


1974

Joan Turner succeeds Eleanor Street as Library Director.


1986

A century after the Library Association was organized, the Library has outgrown the building donated by Morris K. Jesup in 1908 and moves to a new building overlooking Jesup Green, its current site. Prior to the start of construction, resident Amy Vanderbilt had held a tea party on the site to defend its selection. It once had been a landfill.

The Library’s collection is 154,146 books, audio-visual and reference volumes. Circulation is 282,654 books and 107,292 audio-visual media. Library annual attendance is 332,255. Fourteen computer terminals and personal computers are used for cataloging, circulation and interlibrary loans.  Westport’s population is 26,000.


1987

Sally Poundstone succeeds Joan Turner as Library Director.


1996

Planning begins for building renovations to accommodate growing collection and new types of media.

The collection numbers over 180,000 books, audio-visual and reference volumes. Circulation is 471,115 and Library attendance is 396,000, over 1,100 people on an average day.


1998

Maxine Bleiweis begins her tenure as Library Director in January. Building renovations are completed in June and the new Library is formally dedicated on October 4. It has 51,160 square feet of space, an increase of 45 percent.

The River of Names tile mural is unveiled. Created by ceramicist Marian Grebow, the mural is funded by contributions from 1,100 donors.

The Friends of the Library store opens, offering gifts and library-related items.

845 children sign up for the summer reading program, topping the previous high of 500.  The first summer reading scavenger hunt was created to help people acquaint themselves with the new Library.

The first compact disc versions of audiobooks were offered for loan in addition to the tape version.


1999

The As You Like It Library Café opens.  People are allowed to consume their beverages in most areas of the Library, a rarity among public library practices.

Over 900 children register for the summer reading program, another new high.

Shirley Land receives the first ever Special Friend Award.

The Westport Library Award is established to honor those whose work nurtures the love of learning and enhances our understanding of the world. NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw is the first recipient at the "Booked for the Evening" event.

The video collection expands to over 13,000 titles, the largest collection in the state. Circulation is up 16 percent over the previous year and average daily visits rise 31 percent to 1,582 people per day.  The Library has the highest annual circulation per capita in the state at 24 items.


2000

The Speaking of Books service is inaugurated, providing community reading groups with multiple copies of titles and research material for book discussion leaders.

Novelist E.L. Doctorow is honored with the 2nd annual Westport Library Award at the Booked for the Evening event.

Membership in the Friends of the Westport Library tops 1,000.

Six Rocket electronic readers are acquired for loan. They contain digitized books for adult, teen, middle school and elementary school readers.

Library registers the Internet address, www.westportlibrary.org, changing it from the more cumbersome www.westport.lib.ct.us.

The Library’s online catalog becomes Internet-based making it easier for patrons to use.

Leonard Everett Fisher and Howard Munce receive the Friends of the Library Special Friend Award.

New York Times Crossword Puzzle Editor Will Shortz agrees to conduct and supply unpublished puzzles for the Library’s first crossword puzzle contest.


2001

Library inaugurates the Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature, celebrating children’s books. The festival is named in honor of author/illustrator Robert Lawson, who called his Westport home Rabbit Hill. It attracts participants from around the country to workshops and lectures given by authors and illustrators, who also visit local schools.

The book, The River of Names: an historical tile mural at the Westport Library, Westport, Connecticut, is published, researched and written by Dorothy E. Curran.

Over 1,370 children participate in the children’s summer reading program.

The Library Board establishes an Advisory Council to bring insight and expertise from the community.

Author Calvin Trillin is honored with the 3rd annual Westport Library Award at the Booked for the Evening event.

Bill Bangser and Dick Lowenstein receive the Friends of the Library Special Friend Award.

The Business Reading Room opens. Carrels and connections for laptops are available for use.


2002

The first community-wide read, WestportREADS, is announced. The book selected is The Giver by Lois Lowry.

The Library's high speed T-1 Internet connection goes live in May.

Playwright Wendy Wasserstein is honored with the 4th annual Westport Library Award at the "Booked for the Evening" event.

Margaret Barnett receives the Friends of the Library Special Friend Award.

The Committee for the Future of the Library is organized in September to guide the library’s long-range planning process.

The first Malloy Lecture in the Arts features speaker Philippe de Montebello of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A wireless network becomes active in December and makes the Internet accessible from virtually all locations in the Library for laptop users with wireless cards.


2003

Library use hits an all-time high with over 840,000 items loaned and more than 550,000 visitors. The library’s website is accessed by more than 12,000 people each month.

The Library Board of Trustees responds to the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act and adopts a policy in defense of the confidentiality of library records.

Author Pete Hamill is honored with the 5th annual Westport Library Award at the Booked for the Evening event.

The Friends of the Westport Library turn the Library into Hogwarts School for the June 21 release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. More than 200 children attend.

Angela Arcudi McKelvey receives the Friends of the Library Special Friend Award.

At the second WestportREADS, the community reads Snow in August by Pete Hamill.

The Library adopts Leading the Way: A Strategic Plan for the Westport Library, 2004 - 2007, responding to focus groups and a town meeting on the future of the Library.

The Malloy Lecture in the Arts features a conversation with playwrights Arthur Miller and Tom Cole. The audience numbers 700, including actor Gene Wilder, who participates in the conversation.

The Library completes the Technology Appeal, raising more than $110,000 for new computer equipment, and establishes a new lecture series, Technology Talks.


2004

Library attendance surpasses 570,000, a new all-time high.

The first Community Conversation is held. The subject is politics and the media.

The first electronic newsletter is sent to subscribers and the first self-service check-out stations are installed.

A graphic book collection is established.

Movie director Martin Scorsese is honored with the 6th annual Westport Library Award at the Booked for the Evening event.

A Bloomsday 100 Celebration in honor of the work of James Joyce includes films, lectures, and a Dublin dinner.

The Malloy Lecture in the Arts features a conversation with artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, preceding the opening of their Gates installation in Central Park.

At the third WestportREADS, the community reads When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka.

1,822 children register for the summer reading program.

The popular Reading to Rover reading program featuring beginning readers and dogs begins.

Betty Lou Cummings receives the Friends of the Library Special Friend Award


2005

The Spoken Word committee celebrates the 400th anniversary of the publication of Don Quixote with programs and lectures.

The Library and the Westport Country Playhouse celebrate the re-opening of the renovated Playhouse with community-wide programs organized under the banner Before Act I.

Arthur Mitchell, founder and director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, is honored with the 7th  annual Westport Public Library Award at the “Booked for the Evening” event.

July heralds the access by library users to nearly 1,000 downloadable audiobooks using MP3 compatible players. Multiple access allows the entire community to listen to the same book at the same time.

WestportREADS selection is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon.

Carol Gluckman receives the Friends of the Library Special Friend Award.

Demand for meeting space leads to the creation of three conference rooms on the Library’s main level.

Credit cards are accepted for payment of fines.

2,003 children register for the summer reading program.

The Malloy Lecture in the Arts on the Genius of Mozart features violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Frederic Chiu.


2006

The Kids Travel at the Library Service is created, providing families with vacation kits customized to their destination.

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin receives the 8th Westport Library Award.

Poet Billy Collins delivers the Malloy Lecture in the Arts.

Mimi Greenlee receives the Friends of the Library Special Friend Award.

Keeping pace with new technology, the Library offers downloadable video, creates a profile on Facebook and MySpace, answers queries sent by Instant Messaging, and launches staff-written blogs.


2007

The WestportREADS selection is The Soloist by Mark Salzman.

The final Harry Potter Night takes place.

Journalist David Halberstam receives the 9th Westport Library Award posthumously.

Library programs are podcast and staff create a Library wiki, On the Green, dedicated to environment issues.

Doris and Frank Jacoby receive the Friends of the Library Special Friend Award.

Library Board of Directors, responding to new demands on space and services, commissions an architect to study building solutions.

Circulation totals 856,762; there are 548,878 visits to the library, and 948 programs are conducted.


2008

The Library celebrates its 100th anniversary, commemorating the 1908 Library building funded by Morris K. Jesup.

The WestportREADS selection is The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.

The 10th Westport Library Award goes to author Oscar Hijuelos.

The Friends of the Westport Library present the Special Friends Award to the Book Sorters for the Friends Book Sales.

Malloy Lectures feature author Joyce Carol Oates and President of the Carnegie Corporation, Vartan Gregorian.

Circulation exceeds 775,000 items borrowed; 531,000 visit the Library; and more than 46,000 people attend over 1,000 programs.


2009

The 11th Westport Library Award goes to Adam Gopnik.

Hedi Lieberman receives the Friends of the Library Special Friend Award

The Library experiences unprecedented use, with demand driven by a weak economy.  Library staff increases the number of programs offered for jobseekers and follows up with individual consultations.

Circulation totals 832,000; visits to the Library total 563,000; and more than 47,000 people attend over 1,000 programs.


2010

The WestportREADS selection is The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa.

During a devastating storm that cut power to most of Westport in March, the Library provides shelter, heat, electricity, hot running water, and food to more than 12,000 people.

The 12th Westport Library Award honors Will Shortz, New York Times crossword puzzle master.

The Friends of the Westport Library Special Friends Award honors the Spoken Word Committee: Simone Dubow, Carol Diamond, Phyllis Groner, and Nikki Untermeyer.

The Malloy Lectures in the Arts feature cartoonist Roz Chast and actor Christopher Plummer.

The Library adds free downloadable music and language lessons, begins to lend Kindle e-readers, and updates its logo and website.

Circulation reaches a record 949,000 items; 569,000 visit the Library; and 53,000 attend over 1,100 programs. 

 


2011

The Library begins evolving into a community hub offering creative and interactive events and exhibits while maintaining traditional services. Participatory learning becomes fundamental to creating a culture of encouraging people to work and discover together.

The WestportREADS selection is Zeitoun by Dave Eggers.

Free, downloadable ebooks are introduced from the service Freading.

Director Maxine Bleiweis is recognized as Librarian of the Year by the Connecticut Library Association.

Assistant Director for Innovation and User Experience Bill Derry was honored by the Connecticut Association of School Librarians for significant contributions to the library media field on the local, state and national levels.

Sally Berry, Linda Collins and Lynn Goldberg are given the Special Friend Award for outstanding contributions to the Library.

The BOOKED for the evening honoree is musician and writer Patti Smith.

The Malloy Lecture in the Arts features actor John Lithgow.

The Library remains one of the most active in New England. In Connecticut, it is second after Hartford in reference transactions, 2nd in program attendance, 5th in the number of programs offered, 4th in circulation of materials and 4th in visits per capita.

2010  


2012

The Library becomes a national leader in the expanding role of public libraries with the installation of a MakerSpace with a focus on collaborative learning and accessible 3D printing.

Connecticut's first Mini Maker Faire is held at the Library, attracting more than 2,000 people.

Plans are initialized for a building renovation.

A new catalog system, Polaris, is implemented, modernizing the way materials are circulated.

The WestportREADS selection is I Was Amelia Earhart by Jane Mendelsohn.

 The BOOKED for the evening honoree is producer, director and screenwriter Barry Levinson.

 The Malloy Lecture in the Arts features preeminent classical dancer Jacques d’Amboise.

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2013

The second Mini Maker Faire attracts 3,500 people with 20% more "makers" participating.

The Library wins a $250,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences to expand MakerSpace offerings including monthly Makers-in-Residence, tours, workshops and camps for people of all ages. The grant establilshed the Library as a role model for how libraries can change to adapt to a community's changing needs and encourage economic development.

A group of Russian librarians visited the Library as part of a trip to the US that included the Library of Congress and Harvard University.

The Library earned "5-Star Status" from Library Journal. The award is a reflection of how a public library is used by its community.

The Library and its MakerSpace is featured on the cover of the national publication Library Journal.

Ebook offerings expanded with the addition of the service 3M Cloud Library. Two streaming services were added, providing free movies, music and audiobooks for patrons.

Plans to renovate the building were informally introduced to the public and the approval process by the town of Westport began with presentations to governmental bodies.

The WestportREADS selection is The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald.

The BOOKED for the evening honoree is movie titan Barry Levinson.

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2014

The third Mini Maker Faire attracts over 4,000 people.

Library officials travel to Moscow on invitation from the US Embassy to present workshops on makerspaces in libraries.

The Malloy Lecture in the Arts honoree is music legend Clive Davis.

The BOOKED for the evening honoree is music producer and composer Nile Rodgers.

The WestportREADS selection is My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud'homme.

Technology-related instruction accelerates with workshops on coding, 3D printing, invention kits, soldering, Arduino boards, robotics and mini computers.

Museum passes to 26 area museums were offered for the first time.