Publishing Talks: David Wilk interviews Maxine Bleiweis

In this series of interviews, called Publishing Talks, I have been talking to book industry professionals and other smart people about the future of publishing, books, and culture.  This is a period of disruption and change for all media businesses.  We must wonder now, how will publishing evolve as our culture is affected by technology, climate change, population density, and the ebb and flow of civilization and  economics?
I hope these Publishing Talks conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in the publishing industry, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

These interviews give people in and around the book business a chance to talk openly about ideas and concerns that are often only talked about “around the water cooler,” at industry conventions and events, and in emails between friends and they give people inside and outside the book industry a chance to hear first hand some of the most interesting and challenging thoughts, ideas and concepts being discussed by people in the book business.

Since so many of the people I’ve talked to in the Publishing Talks interviews have been in the areas of publishing and technology, I have wanted to broaden the conversation to include other perspectives.  And following the conversation with Hugh McGuire about the future of libraries (a hot topic it seems, as a recent post by Seth Godin seems to indicate), it made sense to talk to a librarian who is working on the issues of access and technology from the user side of the publishing equation.   I live near Westport, Connecticut, which has a fabulous library, with a myriad of public events, an incredibly active and engaged community, and a deep commitment to using technology to increase access to knowledge and information, as well as a wonderful and engaged staff.

Maxine Bleiweis is the Director of the Westport Public Library.   She is a terrifically innovative manager, known for her ability to predict trends and determine ways to meet the latest “customer” needs as they emerge.  Before she became director in Westport in 1998, she was director in Suffield, CT for six years and Newington, CT for 18 years.

I also noticed that she was recently named Outstanding Librarian for 2011 by the CT Library Association, so she is recognized by her peers as well as her own community.

Maxine has a great deal to say about publishing and technology, and her thoughts and ideas are well worth paying attention to.  And even though the Westport Public Library does represent the beliefs and commitment of a very affluent, educated and progressive town, what this library does to enrich the intellectual and artistic life of its community is not enabled simply by having more resources than others.  The principle at work here will work elsewhere – the idea of paying attention to what the community needs and doing everything possible to meet those needs is universally applicable.  You can see what they are doing here.

Maxine and I had a wide ranging conversation about books, community, the future of publishing in the digital age, how libraries will handle ebooks and digital access, and how some of the controversies that have arisen in these important areas may be resolved.