WESTPORT, Conn. — The way Executive Director Bill Harmer sees it, The Westport Library will soon be turned on its head — in a good way.
In response to the changing needs of patrons in the 21st century, a planned library renovation will keep the traditional stacks of old, while creating innovative spaces for the growing makers community, entrepreneurs and those who attend the whopping 2,000 programs the library runs each year.
“This library is no longer what we could call state of the art,” Harmer said recently about the current building constructed in 1986. “We’re pretty excited about this.”
The most obvious change in the new layout is the migration of the traditional book stacks to the lower level, now home to a programming space and the audio-visual room. By moving the books, the library will house everything in one place — books are on several levels now — and offer a quiet space, free from the distractions of the current MakerSpace and other gathering spots upstairs.
The new downstairs will become a 10,000 square foot space for reading, browsing and enjoying relative quiet.
The upstairs level will become a kind of community center, featuring an open “forum” that will hold as many as 400 people for large-scale events the library cannot handle now, Harmer said.
“We miss out on opportunities,” he said.
The plan will raise the floor, allowing for wiring underneath, eliminating the need for the extension cords now used to carry power to the current MakerSpace.
In fact, the MakerSpace will be more mobile under the new plans. And Harmer and the library staff hope to add a workshop of sorts, where inventors and entrepreneurs can actually build their ideas. A recording studio would be available for creating marketing materials or even a demo tape for a local garage band.
Programming rooms and new private and group study rooms will augment the space, parts of which may one day be open 24 hours a day.
“That may be more of an incubator space,” he said.
All of the renovations will take place while the library is still open, and they will all be done on the existing footprint, Harmer said.
And the price? About $19.5 million, down from about $40 million for an earlier plan, Harmer said. The town has committed $5 million, the state will provide $1 million and the library has already raised $9 million from donors, Harmer said.
The permits are in place to begin work in August 2017, with a targeted end date of early summer of 2019, he said.
Though it might look to some as if the library is turning its back on its bread and butter — books — Harmer said that’s far from the case. The facility will continue to augment its enviable collections and host readings and author talks throughout the year.
But what the community expects and needs from the library has changed.
“Libraries have always been learning environments,” he said. “Books are just a tool for learning. In a way, we’re kind of creating two libraries in one here.”