“We shape our buildings and afterward our buildings shape us.” — Winston Churchill, 1943

Nobody in history, other than Churchill, one of the world’s most recognized literary historians, would have the insight and perception to put into words the far-reaching intellectual impact of the buildings we construct to memorialize institutions in our society.

“The Library’s mission,” according to a library official, “is to empower the individual and strengthen the community through dynamic interaction and the lively exchange of ideas. It strives to provide an environment that stimulates curiosity and encourages lifelong learning.”

The Westport Public Library’s current facility, built in 1986, has not been updated significantly in nearly two decades. It is no longer state-of-the-art, nor flexible enough to accommodate modern library usage. The building no longer supports the Library’s mission, according to the library website.

Without a doubt, since the fundamental mission of the Library is information-gathering, this lifelong writer would like to take the opportunity at this crossroads in the Library history to fully recognize and publicly appreciate the critical role of its superb staff.

In particular, those who have been invaluable in assisting me in collecting and cataloguing critical information for each of the eight books I have written and had published since I moved to Westport from New York, are the following reference librarians:

Dennis Barrow

Marta Campbell

Debbie Celia

Margie Den Freilich

Nancy Kuhn-Clark

Beth Paul

Jaina Shaw

Sylvia Shulman

George Wagner

Carolyn Zygmont

“The Westport Library building is poised for an exciting transformation. The redesign of the Library’s interior space will be more responsive to the ever-changing needs of Westporters,” the Library website’s history continues. On Sept. 14, the Westport Public Library broke ground, kicking off what is called a $19.5 million Transformation Project. Construction is projected to last 18-21 months, during which time the library will be kept open to the community. The end result will include a redesigned entrance to the Riverwalk Level of the building which will become the home of the adult book collection, as well as newly-renovated gathering space in the main level, which will be used as a “flex space” for everyday activities and can accommodate up to 500 people.

At the June 2008 Certification Review Committee and Certification Program Committee meetings, the committees agreed on the following definition from the National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], which is based on the definition from the Federal-State Cooperative System (FSCS).

The definition of a public library is an entity that is established under state enabling laws or regulators to serve a community, district, or region, and that provides at least the following:

1) An organized collection of printed or other library materials, or a combination thereof;

2) Paid staff;

3) An established schedule in which services of the staff are available to the public;

4) The facilities necessary to support such a collection, staff, and schedule;

5) Is supported in whole or in part with public funds.

“This project is exciting because it is going to make this library something better,” Library Trustee Adrian Hinojos said.

“Take, for example, the main room with its stacks of books, chairs and tables, and a maker space. This room will be transformed into a forum, a flexible and open space capable of seating four hundred people in an auditorium. In short, the library will offer new spaces within its existing footprint.”

At the ground breaking, Library Executive Director Bill Harmer stated “The new library is designed with collaboration, connection and community at its core.”

Woody Klein is an award-winning Westport writer. His column, “Out of the Woods,” has appeared regularly in the Westport News for the past 49 years. He can reached at wklein11@aol.com. Phone: 203-256-9964. He was assisted in the preparation and research for this column by Irakli (known as “Ike) Kavzharadze.