A community’s heart

By Jane K. Dove

Greenwich Library is where the town’s action is

Widely regarded in the community as a treasure trove of services and programs, Greenwich Library is thriving in its 104,000-square-foot building at 101 W. Putnam Ave. in the town’s business district.

With more than 1,000 programs and events per year, Greenwich Library aspires to be the “cultural and intellectual crossroads” of the community and it appears to have succeeded.

Greenwich Library has 40,000 cardholders, a total circulation of 1.4 million items and is well-ensconced in the digital age. In 2009, Greenwich Library was named a five-star library, the highest ranking, by the Library Journal.

“Area residents see us as a vital resource in the community,” said Kate Petrov, the library’s public relations officer. “We offer a wealth of programming, along with the very latest digital communications technology for use in research. We have 100 computers available for public use. We also have a highly specialized Bloomberg terminal in our large business reference section.”

All of the library’s programs and services take place in a bright, soaring space with high ceilings and an open floor plan featuring plenty of well-placed tables, comfortable seating and scores of outlets for members of the public to use with their own digital equipment.

“During the recent hurricane, we became a real hub for the community,” Petrov said. “Our open and spacious layout along with our capability to allow residents to easily access the Internet made us one of the most popular places in town. We served at least 6,000 people, many of them families with children, when so many people were without power.”

The library got its start in the 1800s as a small book-lending institution, operating out of the Second Congregational Church and another building at 113 Greenwich Ave.

In 1884, the library moved to larger quarters in the Ray Building across the street and later to the Greenwich Avenue site of Saks Fifth Avenue. In 1907, the library was officially granted its current name – Greenwich Library –by the state legislature.

The year 1929 saw a substantial addition to the building, but by the mid-1950s, the library had outgrown its space and so raised funds to enlarge the Greenwich Avenue building. Library officials decided instead to purchase and remodel the old Franklin Simon department store building and on March 14, 1960, the library moved to its present locale.

Additions followed over the years, including the Cole Auditorium and a café on the lower level.

But the best was yet to come.

In 1992, the library received a $25 million bequest from the estate of Clementine Lockwood Peterson, the largest gift ever made to a community library in the United States.

Library trustees decided to stay at the present site and add a 32,000-square-foot wing to be integrated visually and functionally with the old building. The firm of Cesar Pelli & Associates (now Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects) was chosen as architects.

The new Peterson Wing officially opened June 12, 1999, and extensive renovations to the existing building were completed in 2000.

The end result is a magnificent structure that has become a Greenwich landmark and resource for residents of all ages.

A walk through the Greenwich Library reveals why it’s so popular.

The architects designed the Peterson Wing in a modern style with airy space and huge windows that let in ample light. There is quiet space for individuals as well as space for groups to congregate.

“This is not a hush-hush library environment,” Petrov said. “We want it to be well-used and open and inviting to all. Our open floor plan gives us a great deal of flexibility, which we love.”

Greenwich Library boasts impressive reference and print collections, along with a specialized business reference section and a health information center.

Programs abound. A small sampling from dozens includes “Authors Live,” a Friday film series, children’s activities, yoga, concerts, a chess club, blood pressure screenings and a knitting group.

The second floor of the library houses thousands of CDs and the Flinn Gallery, sponsored by the Friends of Greenwich Library, which presents exhibits throughout the year.

Teen Central offers books, periodicals, DVDs, test-prep resources and a group study room with comfortable chairs and tables.

The third floor is devoted to children.

Decorated to reflect the changing seasons, the large space is home to an array of activities and programs, age-appropriate books, story-time presentations and tables for craft projects.

“We have a special Constellation Room with a starry sky for some of our story hours and movies for smaller groups of children,” Petrov said. “This is their special place and both children and parents love to come here.”

The library’s lower level has Elton’s Café and a technology training center where residents can learn or perfect their web search and social media skills.

“We teach at all levels, from beginners to advanced,” Petrov said.

Looking back over the impact of Hurricane Sandy, she said the Greenwich Library operated at full tilt to bring relief to residents.

“There was a real sense of community among our staff and the thousands that passed through,” Petrov said. “People needed to be able to connect with their families and businesses and do things like file insurance claims. We helped make this possible as well as provide activities like movies and crafts for the kids. Our community really pulled together during that very difficult time and we were happy to be of help.”

For more on the Greenwich Library, call (203) 622-7900 or visit greenwichlibrary.org.

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