Acting Director and Long-Time Children’s Librarian Retires

Grace Allen
Sarina Bluhm at the dedication of the library’s children’s room on October 26.
Issue Date: 
December, 2018
Article Body: 

After a career that spanned more than 30 years of service, Sarina Bluhm retired last month from the Norfolk Public Library. Her titles have included Acting Library Director and Assistant Library Director, but Bluhm will most likely be remembered for her role in introducing countless Norfolk children to the joys of reading.
Bluhm decided on a career in library sciences while she was still an undergraduate at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. A French and business major, she spent hours studying in the school’s library and was intrigued by the work of the reference librarians.
“I was amazed at all they knew,” recalled Bluhm. “Back in those days you had to literally get in your car and drive to a different library if you needed a certain book. They always knew who had what and I was always very impressed.”
Tracking down information and problem-solving sounded like a fun and challenging career to Bluhm, who went on to get her MLS degree from Simmons.
Eventually Bluhm ended up in Norfolk, and found her niche in children’s programming. From story hour to monthly music programs and special events, Bluhm strived to make the library a fun and welcoming place for children. Her ultimate goal, of course, was to instill a love of books.
“There is nothing like picking up a book,” observed Bluhm. “You can lose yourself in a book. It’s a calming thing. As the children’s librarian, I used to love sharing books with kids, especially the picture books. I couldn’t get enough of them.”
Bluhm has seen a lot of changes during her career, but the internet has had the biggest impact on her job and on libraries in general. She recalls attending a workshop at Simmons soon after graduating, and learning about the World Wide Web.
“We all thought, ‘how ridiculous.’ And look at it now. It’s amazing. I just love that if you have a question, you can just look it up online. It’s broadened our lives and expanded our world,” she said.
However, along with the digital age came a downturn in the number of students using the library for homework and research, lamented Bluhm. This year the library did away with most of the reference collection simply because it wasn’t being used and sources are available online.
Libraries have had to evolve to meet the needs of its patrons, said Bluhm, pointing out the library’s new Stuffbrary, a collection of useful things patrons can share or try out before purchasing themselves. The collection currently includes appliances, instruments, play equipment, and more.
Despite the changes, Bluhm believes the library will always function as a town’s community center, especially in small towns like Norfolk.
“The community is the constant,” she said. “The library is still a meeting place, a place where people gather, connect, and meet with other people with similar interests. That part of it has remained the same, I think.”
When asked what she was most proud of in her career, Bluhm said she hopes she instilled a love of reading in children, and noted that three of her former program participants have returned to work in the library as young adults.
“I don’t know how much of an influence I had on that, but it was truly my pleasure if I played any part,” she said.
Kenneth Nelson, Chairperson of the Board of Library Trustees, believes Bluhm’s contributions to the Norfolk Library cannot be overstated.
“She certainly injected life into the children’s programming and I think that spirit has continued,” said Nelson. “The programs are still active and I think in large measure that’s one of Sarina’s legacies. She appreciates the value that libraries have in a community and by introducing children to the library you provide something of value in their lives. I think that really drove her.”
He added, “It’s fair to say she was beloved by not only the children who participated in the programs she offered but also by their caretakers.”
Bluhm also served as the assistant library director for a time under Robin Glasser, the library’s director from 1992 to 2015. When Glasser retired, Bluhm became the acting director until her own retirement last month.
“She was a very able and capable replacement for Robin,” said Nelson. “She’s been a great person to work with. She’s humble, modest, and deflects credit to other people and to her staff.”
On October 26, the children’s room of the library was officially dedicated to Bluhm.
As for what’s next, Bluhm is looking forward to spending more time with her grandchildren and hopes to get back into some hobbies. She will return to the Norfolk Library, but this time as a patron and maybe even a volunteer, and she remains one of its biggest fans.
“We have a young staff and I think they are going to do great things with the library,” she reflected. “They approach things differently. They make everything look new and fresh, more like a bookstore. I think everything is going to be good.”