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Westport's Library Director Is One for the Books

You may not know her name, but Maxine Bleiweis , director of the Westport Public Library , knows many of yours – 4,000 of the town's 26,000 residents and counting.

"I'm compulsive about it, about knowing people and their names," said Bleiweis, recipient of this year's Outstanding Librarian Award from the Connecticut Library Association, which acknowledges a lifetime of achievement. "My father, a community journalist, taught me that: Everybody is important. You need every single person in the community to make the community."

Community is the centerpiece of her agenda as the library enters what she calls "its most exciting chapter." "We're changing the definition of library from grocery store, where you gather things to take home, to kitchen, where you create something together from a bunch of ingredients."

The evolution is natural and necessary, Bleiweis said. "Collaboration – that's how people are working, whether they are students collaborating on a film, business people putting together a strategic plan or community members coming together to watch and celebrate a royal wedding," she said. "The library, its programs and its physical space, must change to support that."

Bleiweis came to Westport in 1998 after 18 years as library director in Newington. She began her career in New Jersey, where she was head of a branch of the Mercer County Library System. "I called it a twig, it was so small," she said. "And it was everything I thought I didn't want. You see, I was going to be a college reference librarian." Her next job was library director for Suffield.

Under her wing, Westport's library program attendance has doubled and circulation is the eighth busiest in New England. She also engineered a new fundraising event, "Booked for the Evening," which on May 19 will honor author, poet and rock star Patti Smith.

"About 1,600 people walk through the doors of this library every day," Bleiweis said. "And they'll all leave with more than they came with. That's our magic."

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