Friday, August 31, 2018

Laurel T. Parker – the positive impact of a children’s librarian by Lorraine Glowczak

Kate Woodside, Mrs. Parker, Ellen Woodside
Whether you love eating sweet cupcakes (as in the children’s book, “If You give a Cat a Cupcake”) or devouring sour candy worms (as in the children’s book, “Diary of a Worm”) then you were likely at the most bittersweet event of the year hosted by the Windham Public Library (WPL) as they celebrated the retirement of Laurel T. Parker, the children’s librarian for the past 25 years.

“I must admit, it is mostly sweet”, Parker said with a smile regarding her retirement.

Young and old alike filled the downstairs conference room of the library to shower Parker with gifts, offer thanks for her service and to say their goodbyes on Monday, August 27th from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Her official retirement date will be September 4.

But the ending of a long career has a story and Parker would most likely agree that every story with an ending must also have a beginning.

So how did Parker begin her journey in the career of a children’s librarian? “There were definitely some twist and turns,” explained Parker.

It is true that she had always wanted to become a librarian and while in high school, she volunteered at the Nashua [New Hampshire] Public Library where she lived at the time. “I like to gain knowledge and I like to share knowledge,” Parker stated. “Being a librarian is the perfect profession for me.”

But when it was time to begin college at the University of New Hampshire, she chose a degree program that would not necessarily take one in the direction in which she landed.

“For some reason, I thought that in order to become a librarian, you needed to get a degree in English,” she explained. “Since I didn’t like English, I decided to major in Parks and Rec Administration.” She admitted it wasn’t the most direct path to become a librarian.

#BeTheInfluenceSoon after she graduated college, she moved to Maine to live near her parents who had moved near the Windham area. She worked for various organizations such as Camp Fire (originally, Camp Fire Girls of America) and then at Reece Corporation in Gorham where she met her husband, Walt. Once their daughter, Jennie was born, Parker became a stay at home mom until Jennie was in the fourth grade.

“I needed a job with insurance,” she explained. “There was an opening for a part-time assistant children’s librarian, so I applied and got the job.”

She worked in that position for two years – until the head children’s librarian retired. “I was approached to fill her position, so I spoke to my husband and daughter to get their feedback about this new full-time position,” Parker explained. “Walt was supportive of my choice as was my daughter.”

But her daughter’s response, who was in the 6th grade at the time, was slightly self-serving. “She asked me, ‘Will I get a raise in my allowance?’”, Parker laughed at the memory. Needless to say, Parker accepted the job and has been in the position ever since.

Parker shared some insights regarding those who may wish to make a career in the profession. “Be a part of the Friends of the Library. It is one of the best ways to become involved and gain knowledge about the library business.”

There is one surprising fact that Parker also shared. “Everyone thinks that if you are a librarian, you read a lot. But the fact is, you don’t have time to read. If I knew how much I had to read, I wouldn’t have taken the job.” she joked.

To make sure she does read and keep up on the latest children’s books, Parker joined the Maine Student Book Award Committee. “The committee consists of four public librarians, four school librarians and four English teachers. We read recently published books and choose one as the award winner for the year.” There is also an award for various age groups.

One of Mrs. Parker's favorite children's books
There are many things Parker will miss about her job but there is one aspect of being a children’s librarian that she will miss the most. “More than anything, I will miss purchasing and building a diverse collection of books, that include Maine authors, for the children of Windham,” she reflected. “But I’m certain it will go on to capable hands.”

It was evident at Monday’s retirement party that many will miss Parker’s presence after September 4th. Sisters Kate Woodside, age 7 and Ellen Woodside, age 11 were among the many young readers who attended the festivities.

“The thing is, every time we come here, she is always so kind and always has a big smile on her face,” Ellen said of Parker. “This is what we will miss the most.” Kate agreed with her sister’s statement. “Yes! Yes! We will really miss her.”

Jen Alvino, Director of the Windham Public Library concurred with the Woodside sisters. “I will miss Laurel in many ways. She is so kind and helpful. I will especially miss her multiple connections with the community since she is involved in many organizations. She is a tremendous asset to the library in many ways. Her knowledge and presence will definitely be missed.”

What’s next for Parker? Besides volunteering, being an active and/or lifetime member of the Girls Scouts, Windham Historical Society, Longfellow Garden Club, Garden Club of Maine, National Garden Club and an active member of Windham Hill United Church of Christ, Parker will spend her time volunteering even more. “I want to be a VNA Hospice volunteer,” Parker reflected, wanting to give back to the organization who was there for her husband who passed away in April 2017.

“I also want to become a platelet donor for the Red Cross,” she said. “I’ve always given blood and now I also want to do this.”

One will still see Parker at the Library every Tuesday as she will continue her participation in the Knitters ‘N More gathering that meets from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. You might even hear Parker read a book at that weekly gathering.

As for travel, she has no immediately plans. “But I now have a passport, so if anything comes up, I can travel on a moment’s notice.”

Wherever life takes you, Laurel T. Parker, the community wishes you the best. Thank you for inspiring the love of reading in the youth of Windham.

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