If you’ve been to the Darien Library at any point in the past 40 years, you’ve probably crossed paths with Blanche Parker. Parker is a knowledge and learning services librarian, and has been a fixture in Darien for decades. Her career and service are being honored, as Parker is set to be named the Connecticut Library Association’s Outstanding Librarian of the Year.
The award is presented to honor the career accomplishments of a librarian who has demonstrated an outstanding record of service to his or her library and to the library profession. Parker was recognized for her commitment to providing above and beyond reference assistance, mentoring support, and compassionate service.
The award will be presented at the Connecticut Library Association’s Annual Conference on April 24. The Darien Library is holding a public reception the next day, Wednesday, April 25, at 2 p.m. The reception is open to the public.
Blanche’s role at the library is one of constant service and help.
“You could think of it as reference. Day in and day out, Blanche answers questions. Her particular expertise is business reference. We have a lot of people use the library from 9-5, Monday to Friday, making conference calls. If they need research or investment help, Blanche is their go-to person,” said Mallory Arents, who is head of adult programming at the library. “She also does a lot of health and wellness research and reference. So if someone calls and says they just got this diagnosis, can you tell me what that means, Blanche can walk them through that in a compassionate way while providing real, accurate, and non complicated information,” Parker’s role is very public facing, and Arents said Parker spends the majority of her day interacting with library patrons. Her years of experience have also made her something of a town historian.
“Because of her institutional and community knowledge here in Darien, she knows everyone. If there’s ever a question about a house that used to be on a street, that information still lives with Blanche,” Arents said, adding, “she’s such a treasure for this town.”
Parker was instrumental in moving the library into the 21st Century, transitioning from card catalogs and other paper records to digital media and computers. In doing so, she interacted with both community members eager to learn new digital systems as well as those who preferred the card catalogs and paper methods.
Parker is also very in touch with students in Darien.
“Blanche is often one of the first faces our high school students see, especially when they’re studying for midterms and finals. She, also, because she’s been around so long, really and truly has raised a generation of students here. When college students come back, Blanche remembers their names and their faces,” Arents said.
Parker is originally from North Carolina, and returns home every July to spend time with family there. Those few weeks without her, Arents said, can be a challenge to the library staff.
“Our joke is you never want to work the reference desk in July, because people walk up, see that Blanche isn’t there, and literally turn and walk away,” Arents said with a laugh.
The staff at the library is thrilled about this award for their colleague, and Arents said she believe it’s the first time they’ve been honored this way at the state level.
“This award really honors a career. In libraries a lot of times we celebrate people who had a really innovative project, or a new service that came about and is great. What Blanche’s award is doing is honoring a lifetime of service to this community, and really above and beyond in a lot of ways,” Arents said.
And now, after 40 years and a major award, is the library ready for Parker to perhaps move towards retirement?
“That question keeps us up at night,” Arents said, mentioning an event for adults that was geared toward retirement planning that Parker wanted to attend. Still, Arents said Parker is as strong in her position as ever.
“She loves her work, she loves this community, and it doesn’t seem like she’s slowing.”