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Honoring Louise Berry

Published 11:17 am, Thursday, March 6, 2014

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  • Louise Parker Berry was honored at Louise Parker Berry Day on Thursday, Feb. 27 at the Darien Public Library. She retired after serving as the library's executive director for 35 years. Photo: Megan Spicer / Darien News
    Louise Parker Berry was honored at Louise Parker Berry Day on Thursday, Feb. 27 at the Darien Public Library. She retired after serving as the library's executive director for 35 years. Photo: Megan Spicer

 

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For three years, John Freidberg has driven from his Greenwich home to the Darien Library to watch the free movies on Friday nights in the community room with friends.

But it wasn't a movie that brought Freidberg to the library Feb. 27 -- he wanted to see who or what is the driving force behind the community inside the building at 1441 Post Road.

That driving force has been Louise Parker Berry, after whom the community room is now named. Berry retired after 35 years as executive director at one of the top nationally-ranked public libraries Feb. 28. She is retiring to her New Hampshire home.

"You are highly regarded by the public and have served well and are respected by your peers," state Rep. Terrie Wood, R-Darien, read from a statement issued by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who could not attend the Louise Barker Berry Day.

Wood met Berry in 1993 when she served on the library's board of trustees.

First Selectman Jayme Stevenson told the audience that she doesn't do well with goodbyes.

"It's been such a pleasure after so many years. I got to know you as a mom, when I would bring my kids to the library," Stevenson said. "I transitioned to first selectman and working with you and Alan (Gray) on community matters and emergency preparedness matters. It's been such a pleasure."

For Stevenson, it is the "feel" of the public library that stands out.

"You, and the role model you set for your staff and the service you provide and what you role model to the rest of the community," Stevenson said to Berry, who was seated in the front row next to Gray, the incoming executive director.

Gray has been with the library for seven years, and, among other tasks, was responsible for the planning and services incorporated into the new Darien Library, which opened in January 2009.

Kendall Wiggin, the Connecticut state librarian since 1989, was unable to attend the event, but Gray read his congratulations -- which came on official state library stationary, Gray pointed out.

"Long before the library community was widely embracing the concept of a library as a place or as a community center, Louise was living it," Gray read. "She understood and helped others understand that libraries were more than places to store books."

"Louise is a classic," said Joyce Ann Davidson, a Darien native and longtime library supporter. "She stood for all of the good things about Darien. We could put her in an official position in our government as an ambassador for the same amount of energy she put into Darien Library."

Berry grew up in Chillicoth, Ohio, where she started working in libraries at age 13. She graduated from the University of New Mexico and received a master's degree in library service from Columbia University, where she was president of the student council. She began her career at the New York Public Library and also served as head of adult services at the Westport Public Library. She was appointed director of Darien Library on March 1, 1979.

She is nationally known for developing the practice of "extreme customer service" at the Darien Library.

"This is not a culture based on one personality," Berry said in a tribute video that was shown at the event. "It's a culture based on collective personalities and, yes, I may have been the one that started it 30 years ago, but it has been built by successive staff members and leadership among various people on the staff."

Rebecca Miller, editor-in-chief of Library Journal and School Library Journal, described Berry as being a "brave risk-taker with curiosity."

"We in library land are richer for learning with Louise and her team for innovating and taking library service to the next level and we will be learning from her as we continue to watch it evolve for years to come," Miller said, adding that Darien can be listed as one of the best libraries in the country.

The Library Journal gave the Darien Library five stars in 2012.

Freidberg knew there was something different about the Darien Library that he didn't feel at the Greenwich library.

"When they have events, they try to raise the community spirit," Freidberg said. "There's more personality. You go and meet your friends."

mspicer@bcnnew.com; 203-330-6583; @Meg_DarienNews