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Children's librarian turns final page after 34 years

March 26, 2007|by MARLO BARNHART

HAGERSTOWN - Having read to children from Hawaii to Hagerstown for much of her adult life, Donna Parks is looking forward to doing something else ... reading for herself.

Recently retired as head of children's services at Washington County Free Library, Parks was hired for that position more than 34 years ago.

"My son was 5 weeks old when I started working in Hagerstown in 1972," Parks said.

Born in Iowa, Parks was educated at the University of Minnesota, where she earned her master's degree in library science.

"Looking for work, I saw an ad in a library journal for the position of head of children's services in Hagerstown," Parks said.

Parks was flown to Hagerstown for the interview. "The interview went well so I went back for my son and we moved here," she said.

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James "Jay" Parks is the father of Parks' two grandchildren, Logan and Alison.

Relocating from Minneapolis to Hagerstown wasn't as big a culture shock as one might imagine since Parks said her "neighborhood" in Minneapolis was like a small town within its boundaries.

At the time she took over her position, the library in Hagerstown had been on South Potomac Street for about 10 years, Parks said.

Her library career began in 1967, working in the young adult section of the state-run library on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

"I found that job the same way I later found the one in Hagerstown - in a library journal," she said, noting she was in Hawaii about 18 months.

There were also stints at libraries in Virginia Beach, Va., and San Francisco before she came to Hagerstown.

In all of her years in library work, Parks said her greatest joy has been reading to children, choosing books they would enjoy and helping them grow up to be good readers as adults.

When she came to Hagerstown, Parks immediately began making strides to take the library's programs and services out to the children in Washington County.

The children's department began regular storytelling and programming at area preschools and schools.

She led the effort to establish "Battle of the Books," a countywide reading competition. The 20-year-old program encourages students in grades 4, 5 and 6 to read.

Over the years, Parks has spent countless hours developing the children's collection of books.

Parks spearheaded efforts to set up a young adult collection. In 2005, the Teen Loft opened with a brand new collection of books.

Washington County Free Library is overseen by a board of trustees which also manage branches in Clear Spring, Smithsburg, Hancock and Keedysville.

Libraries in Sharpsburg, Boonsboro and Williamsport have their own boards.

In Hagerstown, Parks selected books with an eye toward those that are fun. It could be challenging to buy the right things, keeping up with what children are asking for and what is published.

As far as who decides what is put in the children's library, Parks said she had that authority. "There is a committee that handles any written challenges to the books in the children's library," she said.

"I had very few challenges in my 34 years," Parks said. "Sometimes it's language, and sometimes a scenario."

The children's department included Parks, two full-time librarians, an associate librarian and a part-time person who works Sundays and stocks shelves.

The new head of the department is Paul "Jeff" Ridgeway, she said.

In addition to reading, Parks also is looking forward to enjoying another favorite pastime - traveling. She has had recent trips to Greece and Paris with plans for a trip to Great Britain.

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