Westport Library’s new director sees exciting next chapter
Updated 4:28 pm, Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Proving he’s a quick study, the Westport Library’s new executive director is embracing what he has to work with at this nationally known institution, and investigating where positive changes might be made.
William “Bill” Harmer took the helm from Maxine Bleiweis, who left last month after earning the library widespread recognition for innovation and growth in a digital age. And although he’s been at the center of a whirlwind since his move from Michigan, Harmer said he is taking pleasure in discovering the depth of knowledge, skill and enthusiasm he has found in his new staff and the community at large.
He had been the director of the Chelsea District Library in Michigan since 2009.
“The depth of experience and expertise that exists in this community is awe-inspiring,” Harmer said. “And the excitement and energy in this building among the staff and the people that use this library is inspiring me. It really is an inspiring place.”
Harmer recently shared some of his first early impressions of the Westport Library during a stroll around his new domain, talking to staff and visitors, and commenting on various facets of the library.
“My job is to keep that momentum moving,” Harmer said.
“I want to be part of a team,” he said. “I want them to see me as part of a team. And the same approach with the community … to be inclusive, to invite people in.”
“This library belongs to the community,” he said, “and it’s a reflection of the community.”
Harmer recently had a chance meeting with one of library’s most dedicated supporters, Martha Aasen, who formerly served as president of the board.
“We’re glad to have you,” she told him, sharing a moment to discuss his native Midwest and her early years in Mississippi. “I think it’s a terrific library and I’m sure you’re going to keep us going.”
Asked whether Harmer seemed like a good choice for the post, Aasen said, “I think it’s pretty definite. I understand it was unanimous.”
Inspired by the energy and opportunity posed by the Westport Library job, and following meetings with staff, patrons and stakeholders, Harmer said he has already jotted down two pages of ideas about various operation and locations within the building.
“The only thing that limits what we can do here is imagination,” he said. “There’s already an incredible foundation here that exists and my job is to just nurture that.”
Among the things that Harmer would like to see changed are the Internet and computer area at the southeast corner of the building, which he described as looking very “20th Century.”
“Some of it is just practicality,” he said, noting that there are space limits to what can be done. Likewise, he said, with the removal of many old periodicals, which once took up a number of shelves on the lower level, the possibility exists to expand other uses.
By comparison, Harmer took note of the new multi-computer open space work area adjacent to the MakerSpace. “It’s an open space in which people can engage together,” he said, design collaboratively and share their discoveries.
“This space does feel like an incubation space,” he said, “for arts and culture … learning and discovering.”
Harmer noted that part of what makes the profession unique, along with the educational elements, is the customer service aspect. “Any way you look at what we do, we’re in the service business,” he said. “This includes having an impact on people and the community, from learning and discovery, from education, from birth to death, and being welcoming and inclusive for all.”
While it might sound overwhelming in some respects, this is what attracted Harmer to the profession and, more recently, to the Westport post. “Every day there are opportunities to connect with people in surprising and new ways,” he said. “It’s exciting, it’s vibrant, it’s new, it’s challenging.”
“In terms of what we can do, the sky’s the limit.”